French Alphabet 101

By OptiLingo • 6 minutes read

french alphabet

Learn the French ABCs

Like many European languages, the French alphabet is similar to the English alphabet. It consists of 26 letters, and it’s based on the Latin alphabet. However, there are a few minor exceptions. In this section on the French alphabet, we’ll walk you through those differences so you can master the French alphabet and French pronunciation quickly and easily.

Why Learn the French Alphabet?

Although it may seem very straightforward, mastering the French alphabet is the first step to French fluency. There are various benefits to familiarizing yourself with these letters:

  1. It’s a good foundation for the French language
  2. you can improve your French accent
  3. you’ll spell French words easier

The Complete French Alphabet

Letter
Name
Phonetic Name (IPA)
Diacritics and ligatures
Pronounced as:
A
a
/ɑ/
Àà, Ââ, Ææ
short a – like father
B
/be/
B – like bee
C
/se/
Çç
hard S when before e, i or y – like hiss

hard C when before a, o, or u – like can

D
/de/
D – like day
E
e
/ə/
Éé, Èè, Êê, Ëë
Ur or Er – like burner
F
effe
/ɛf/
F – like fog
G
/ʒe/
soft before e, i or y – like measure

hard before a, o, or u – like gate

H
ache
/aʃ/
Silent – like hour
I
i
/i/
Îî, Ïï
Ea – like teacher
J
ji
/ʒi/
like measure
K
ka
/kɑ/
K – like kin
L
elle
/ɛl/
L – like lost
M
emme
/ɛm/
M – like mine
N
enne
/ɛn/
N – like none
O
o
/o/
Ôô, Œœ
Short O – like “shot”

Long O – like “fort”

P
/pe/
P – like post
Q
qu
/ky/
K – like kin
R
erre
/ɛʁ/
soft sound made by pushing air through the back of your throat
S
esse
/ɛs/
S when starting a word or when doubled (ss) – like sit

Z in the middle of a word – like amaze

T
/te/
T – like ton
U
u
/y/
Ùù, Ûû, Üü
Tight-lipped e – form oo with your lips and say the letter e
V
/ve/
V – like voice
W
double vé
/dubləve/
V – like voice

W – like water

X
ixe
/iks/
KS or X – like socks or exit
Y
i grec
/iɡʁɛk/
Ÿÿ
Ea – like leap
Z
zède
/zɛd/
Z – like zip

french alphabet letters

Accents and Special Letters in the French Alphabet

Although the French alphabet is very similar to the English one, there are some variations to certain letters. These accents and diacritics have special names, and sometimes even special pronunciations. Let’s take a look at how they’re spelled, used, and pronounced:

L’Accent Aigu

é Éléphant (elephant) É – like café

This is the most common and simple accent in the French alphabet. You only use it on the letter “e”, and the pronunciation is always the same: like the “e” in café.

L’Accent Grave

à
là (a form of the)
short A – like father
è
fièvre (fever)
E – like bet
ù
only used with an o (où)
OO – like football

L’accent grave is very similar to l’accent aigu, but the direction of the line changes. The letters “a”, “e”, and “u” can wear accent grave, but they’re pronounced differently. While “à” remains the same as “a”, “è” is much different from the normal French “e”. You pronounce “è” with a short “e” sound, like “bet” or “get”. “ù” is extremely unique. You can only find it in one letter in the French language: où, which means “where”. You pronounce this word as an “oo” sound, like in “football”.

Le Tréma

ë
Noël (Christmas)
E – like bet
ü
aigüe (acute)
Tight-lipped e – form oo with your lips and say the letter e
ï
maïs (but)
EA – like teacher

The double dots on top of letters are called diaeresis. These accents in French are rarely used. They’re a remnant of a previous spelling rule that’s becoming outdated. For example, using “mais” is much more commons than “maïs”, and they both mean “but”.

L’accent Circonflexe

â
gâteau (cake)
long A – like garden
ê
être (to be)
E – like bet
î
île (isle)
EA – like teacher
ô
chômage (unemployment)
long O – like short
û
dû (of)
tight-lipped e – form oo with your lips and say the letter e

L’accent circonflexe is a fascinating remnant of Old French. You can recognize it as a replacement of the letter “s” in many cases. Some great examples of this are the words hôpital (“hospital”), arrêt (“arrest” or “stop”), or forêt (“forest”). Although a lot of these accents have been replaced with just the regular letter to make French spelling easier, a few still remain traditionally.

La Cédille

ç français (French) Only before a, o or u

S – like sit

This little hook underneath the letter “c” is called cedilla in English. It’s pronounced the same way as letter “s” would be.

Joint Vowels

æ
et cætera (“et cetera”)
= é
œ
œuf (egg)
= e or EU

These letters are decreasing in use, and they can often be replaced with the two vowels separately.

Pronouncing the French Alphabet

Listening is a crucial part of language learning. Before you try to pronounce the letters of the French alphabet, get used to the sounds of the language. You can even slow the video down it you’d like. When you feel ready, go ahead and recreate the sounds you hear. You’ll improve your accent, and become fluent faster if you take your time and listen.

Learning the French Alphabet

You can quickly learn the French alphabet using traditional learning methods:

  1. Spaced Repetition: This learning method is crucial to commit your study materials to memory. It’s a scientifically-proven fact that your brain is actively trying to forget. No matter how badly you want to learn the French alphabet, within a week you’ll forget most of it. Unless you review it regularly. Every few days, practice the French alphabet again. Soon you’ll realize that you know it by heart.
  2. Mnemonics: Using associations is very useful when you’re learning the French alphabet. Think of 26 French words, each beginning with different letters for the alphabet. If you associate the picture or idea of those words to the sounds, you’ll learn it faster, and you’ll also learn the proper pronunciation.
  3. Songs: Perhaps the most effective method to learn the alphabet is with a song. Below is a version that has the same melody and the English alphabet song, so you can learn it very quickly.

Master the Franch Language Fast

Learning the French alphabet is the first step of this exciting journey. Soon you’ll be able to fluently talk to French locals. And if you want to get there fast, OptiLingo can help.

OptiLingo is a language learning app that brings you results. Built on scientifically-proven methods, this effective technology will get you speaking French fast. By combining spaced repetition with comprehensible input, you won’t just understand your lessons, you’ll also commit them to memory successfully. And most importantly, you’ll practice your speaking skills from day 1. This means that your fluency is closer than you think. Try OptiLingo today for free to discover how effective it is!

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