As you may remember from your school days, learning French in high school perhaps, French pronunciation is very weird at times. One example springs to mind: la liaison.
La liaison is everywhere in spoken French! Or… almost everywhere. Sometimes you need to use it. Sometimes it’s not allowed. Sometimes it’s optional.
But, what is the liaison?
And what are the rules for using it properly in spoken French?
Let’s look at it together, with examples for using la liaison.
Bonjour I’m Géraldine, your French teacher.
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- What is la liaison?
- The five cases of mandatory liaison
- After a determiner
- Between pronoun and verb
- Between adjectives and pronouns
- After a short preposition and “trés”
- In built-in expressions and composed words
- Forbidden liaisons (after “et,” and more)
- Optional liaisons (after a plural verb, and more)
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1) What is “la liaison” ?
La liaison is a rule in French pronunciation.
When a word that ends with a silent consonant (like Mon = my where n is “silent”) is placed before a word that starts with a vowel (like Ami = friend), we sometimes pronounce the silent consonant. That’s la liaison.
Mon + ami → Mon ami (sounds like “mon nahmee,” where “mon” has a French nasal sound.)
The most common consonants for la liaison are:
- s → sounds like “z” in la liaison.
For example: Des enfants (= some children) sounds like “deyz anfants”, where “an” is a nasal vowel.
- n → sounds like “n”
- d and t → both sound like “t” in la liaison.
For example: Mon grand ami (= my great friend.) sounds like “gran tahmee.” Mon petit ami (= my boyfriend, or “small friend” literally) sounds like “puh tee tahmee.”
The liaison with s is the most common, by far.
But you can’t use it every time!
…So when exactly should you use la liaison?
We say “faire la liaison” (= “pronouncing the liaison,” or literally “doing the liaison.”) For example: Dans “mon ami,” on fait la liaison ! (= In “mon ami,” we pronounce the liaison!)
2) Liaisons you have to make
We have some liaisons obligatoires (the “mandatory” liaisons) in French pronunciation.
There are 5 most common examples of this.
1) After a determiner
This is the most common case for la liaison in everyday spoken French!
A determiner is a small word used before a noun, like “the,” or numbers, or possessives… And here, we’ll focus on those that end with a consonant.
Or in French, words such as:
- Un (= a / one in the masculine)
- Des (= some)
- Les (= plural the)
- Ces (= These)
- Deux (= Two, where the “x” sounds like “z” in the liaison)
- Trois (= Three)…
- Mon / Ton / Son (= my / your / his-her in the singular)
- Mes / Tes / Ses (= my / your / his-her in the plural)
- Nos / Vos / Leurs (= our / plural “your” / their in the plural)
After such a determiner, if there’s a noun or an adjective that starts with a vowel, you need to pronounce the liaison.
For example (the liaison is underlined):
- Un enfant = a child
- Les arbres = the trees
- Deux amis = two friends (“x” sounds like “z”)
- Ton excellent vin = your excellent wine
- Ces autres voyages = These other travels
For advanced learners, you also find a liaison after quels / quelles, determiners that are typically used for an exclamation (Quels amis ! = What friends they are!) or an interrogation (Quels amis ? = Which friends?).
You’ll also find more exceptions and details in my lesson on French numbers (check out the special pronunciation for “neuf heures” = 9pm)
2) Pronoun + verb
This very common case is more straightforward. We use it mostly with subject pronouns that end with a consonant:
- On (= casual We)
- Nous (= We)
- Vous (=plural You, or respect: Tu or Vous in French)
- Ils / Elles (= They, masculine / feminine)
- On est là ! = We’re over here!
- Elles ont faim ! = They’re hungry!
- Vous êtes sûrs ? = Are you sure?
A pronoun before a verb can also be a complement, sometimes. The personal complement pronouns that end with a consonant are Nous (= us), Vous (= you) and Les (= them).
- Tu nous entends. = You can hear us.
- Je les adore. = I love them.
3) Adjective + noun
The liaison is also mandatory between an adjective and a noun that appears right after it. That noun can be singular or plural.
- J’ai des petites oreilles. = I have small ears.
- Michel est un grand ami. = Michel is a great friend. (“d” sounds like “t”!)
- Je regarde la télé sur un petit écran. = I’m watching TV on a small screen.
- C’est un ancien élève. = He’s a former pupil.
4) After short prepositions, and “très”
Mandatory liaisons also appear after short, one-syllable prepositions.
- Dans = In
- En = In
- Sans = Without
- Chez = At (“z” sounds like “z”)
- Sous = Under…
But also Très (= very.) For example:
- C’est très amusant ! = It’s very amusing!
- Je vis en Amérique. = I live in America.
- Ils sont chez eux. = “They’re home,” (or literally “they’re at their own place.”)
- J’arrive dans une minute. = I’m here in a minute.
5) Built-in expressions and composed words
The French language is basically made of exceptions. Sorry, I know this makes things way more difficult 😉 .
So, here is your list of “exceptions”, for all the expressions and composed words where French people automatically use the liaison out of habit.
- Les États-Unis = the United States
- Peut-être = maybe
- Avant-hier = the day before yesterday
- C’est-à-dire = that is to say
- De temps en temps = from time to time
- Plus ou moins = more or less
- Tout à coup = All of a sudden
- Tout à l’heure = Later…
- Comment allez-vous ? = How are you?
- Quand est-ce que… ? = When is it that… ?
In avant-hier, the “h” at the beginning of ‘hier’ is usually un H muet (= a silent “h”). It’s like it doesn’t exist! But when we introduce la liaison, the words that start with a silent “h” act as if they were starting with their first vowel, instead.
The problem is that some French words start by un H aspiré (= the “aspirated” H) instead, which is also silent… but doesn’t have the liaison. For example, les héros (= the heroes) or les haricots (= the beans) don’t make the liaison. That’s the subject for another lesson entirely, but it’s something to be aware of!
3) Forbidden liaisons
In French pronunciation, just like in social life, some liaisons are very dangerous.
The two main forbidden cases:
1) After “Et”
2) After a singular noun
For example: un chat et un chien = a cat and a dog.
There’s no liaison at all here:
- Not between “chat” and “et”, because “chat” is a singular noun.
- Nor between “et” and “un chien” → there’s no liaison after “et”
There are other cases where such a liaison is normally forbidden, with some (very rare) exceptions… but you shouldn’t bother yourself with these exceptions. Just consider them as forbidden.
3) Before a verb (when it’s not a pronoun)
Les trains arrivent. = The trains are arriving.
→ No liaison between “trains” and “arrivent”
4) After a verb in the singular
Tu vois un problème ? = Are you seeing any problem?
→ No liaison between “vois” and “un.”
5) With first names
On va chez Arthur. = We’re going to Arthur’s place.
→ No liaison between “chez” and “Arthur.”
French language obscure trivia
The mistake of pronouncing a liaison with the wrong consonant is called un pataquès ([pah tah kess].)
4) Optional liaison
Finally, we have les liaisons facultatives (= optional liaisons.) In these cases, French people usually don’t make the liaison, but you can pronounce it to make yourself sound more formal.
1) After a verb in the plural
Les enfants regardent un chat noir. = The kids are looking at a black cat.
2) After short adverbs and conjunctions
- Trop = too much
- Plus = more / not anymore (see my lesson: How to pronounce “plus”)
- Mais = But
Il est trop élégant, mais il est là. = He’s too elegant, but he’s here.
Pronouncing both liaisons sounds very highbrow / elegant.
3) After the verbs “Être” and “Avoir”
The liaison is a bit more common after the conjugated verbs “être” and “avoir” (even in the singular conjugations), especially with a past participle. But it’s still a bit formal.
- Je suis arrivé hier. = I arrived yesterday.
- Ils sont entrés dans la maison. = They entered the house.
- Elles ont une nouvelle chanson. = They have a new song.
This is a tricky part of French grammar — you can check out my lesson on Le Participe Passé if you want to learn more.
I gave you the basics of la liaison and it’s already a lot to digest. Yet, of course, there are still more exceptions. For example, we pronounce it with Quand (= when), except when it’s before an inversion verb-subject… except for “Quand est-ce que” (where it’s mandatory) ! For example:
- Quand on a que l’amour = “When we only have love,” a Jacques Brel song.
- Quand es-tu arrivé ? = When did you arrive?, no liaison.
- Quand est-ce que tu es arrivé ? = When did you arrive, mandatory liaison
In the end, after researching for this lesson, there are rules I’m still confused about. But with these basics, you can start practicing with confidence and learn as you go!
As always, don’t be afraid of your mistakes. You are already making great progress.
Want to keep improving your spoken French? Check out this short playlist on French pronunciation !
You’ll learn more about:
→ Vowels pronunciation, to complete your pronunciation
→ Le “c cédille”, another peculiarity of French pronunciation like la liaison
→ Pronunciation of French numbers, with real-life expressions.
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!
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Allez, salut 🙂