How to Pronounce the French “R” (Does it matter?!)

The French “R” sound is difficult and strange!

You’ll see this consonant in common French words like:

  • Paris,
  • France,
  • Une girafe,
  • Un ours (= a bear)

A lot of my students struggle with its pronunciation. It’s even harder than learning how to pronounce “u” vs “ou” in French.

You can learn French for fifteen or twenty years and still not quite get it. And I know that it can be so frustrating!

…But how much does the “correct” pronunciation really matter? And what can you do to improve your pronunciation of the French R?

Let’s dive in!

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1) The importance of the French R

In the video lesson, you can hear British actor Daniel Radcliff pronouncing a French sentence. His French “R” sounds are really British… but we still understand him!

The truth is: pronouncing French R perfectly shouldn’t be your primary focus when learning French.

You can speak perfect French and still have trouble with the “R” sound. People will still understand you! It’s not even really an embarrassing mistake, and it’s not likely to cause confusion between words.

It’s part of your French accent – and there’s no shame in that.

If you want to build connections with French people (and with French culture), you’ll get more mileage out of mastering the basic French greetings that will make you sound like more than a “simple tourist” in Paris.

…And yet, you’re allowed to feel frustrated by that tricky French “R.”

So, let’s see how you can get better at pronouncing it.

The “French R” in this lesson should rather be called the “Parisian R,” to be honest. An old person from l’Alsace (in Eastern France), for example, might speak with a very different accent – and use a different “R” sound. But nowadays, French TV and radio use almost exclusively the Parisian accent, which became largely dominant in the country.

2) French “R” : how to practice your pronunciation

You need to lift up the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just between your hard palate and your soft palate.

It’s quite similar to the way you’d place your tongue to pronounce the sound [g] — so, you can start with that sound first! Repeat after me in the video lesson, with the sound [g].

Then place a small “gargle” sound instead of the [g]. Your tongue might move back just a little bit.

(Remember, it’s the back of your tongue that should stick up! Not the front, like you do with the English “R.”)

And now you can try pronouncing the French “R”.

  • Paris.
  • France.
  • Le grand ours dorlote sa girafe préférée.
    (= The big bear cuddles its favorite girafe.)

Practicing mindfully is the first step to better pronunciation, so keep practicing whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to sound ridiculous!

Later, you can try to “mellow” out that gargle sound – because the real French “R” in everyday conversation is less harsh than the ones that Edith Piaf sings, for example.

Discover more tips and insights about spoken French pronunciation with my other lessons:

French sounds: How to pronounce (and hear) “ou” vs. “u”
Simple but effective tips to improve your French accent

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

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Join the conversation!

  • The biggest difficulty is not ‘r’ on it’s own, but after cononants like C and G. ‘Grand’ or ‘craindre’. Very few online teachers appreciate difficulties they don’t have themselves.

  • Merci! That really helped! 🙂 I’ve just started to learn French and I wanted to get it right from the very beginning!

  • Merci d’avoir expliquer comment se prononce le “r” francais! C’est vrai, ca peut etre difficile pour les anglophones, comme moi.

    • Hi Bill!

      Un ours = a bear

      O [oh] – U [/y/ = French u] – R – S pronounced “oorss” (with “ou” like [oo] = [/u/], French R, and we pronounce the S)

      We make “la liaison” before “ours” –> In “un ours”, the “n” links to the “ou”, so it sounds likes “un noursse”.
      (In French for children, it also becomes “a teddy bear” = “un nounours” (with a not-silent S))

      My grandma used to tell me that in “un ours / des ours” (= a bear / bears), the S should be pronounced in the singular but silent in the plural (“des ours” = [dayz oorr]). But nowadays, that rule stopped being followed, so we most often say “des ours” with a S that you can hear, even in the plural.

      Have a great day,

      – Arthur, writer for Comme une Française

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