French language

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French
français
Pronunciation [fʁɑ̃sɛ]
Native to See below
Native speakers 75 million  (2007)[1]
220 million L1 and L2 speakers (2010)[2]
Language family
Early forms:
Writing system Latin (French alphabet)
French Braille
Official status
Official language in


Numerous international organisations
Regulated by Académie française (French Academy)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fr
ISO 639-2 fre (B)
fra (T)
ISO 639-3 fra
Linguasphere 51-AAA-i
New-Map-Francophone World.PNG
     Regions where French is the main language

     Regions where it is an official language      Regions where it is a second language

     Regions where it is a minority language

The French language (French: français, pronounced "frahnseh") is a Romance language that was first spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Quebec and Switzerland. About 220 million people speak French as a native or a second language.[3] It has also been one of the roots of other languages such as the Haitian Creole language. Like most Romance languages, its nouns have genders that are divided into masculine (masculin) and feminine (féminin) words.

History[change | change source]

In ancient times, the Celts lived in what is now France.[4] In those days, the land was called Gaul (Latin: Gallia). The Romans spread their power to Gallia and made Gallia their provinces. Because the Romans spoke Latin, the local people learned Latin and began to speak it. Their own language, Gaulish, tended to be spoken less often, although Breton is a language still spoken today in the part of France called Brittany, that came from the old Celtic language.

After the Roman Empire fell and Germanic peoples swarmed the countryside, Latin was changing quickly; and in medieval France it changed into two accents or languages: langue d'oc and langue d'oïl. They both mean "language of yes", because oc was the word for "yes" in the south, and oïl meant "yes" in the north. Today, the word for yes in French is oui, pronounced like "we".

Langue d'oc is now called Occitan, and it is still spoken by many people in Southern France.

Letters[change | change source]

French uses the roman alphabet, with English. There are a few differences, because vowels can have three types of diacritics added on to them. These are the acute accent é; grave accent è and circumflex accent î. A cedilla can also be added onto a c to make ç.

Vowels[change | change source]

  • a is pronounced like in "father".
  • ai and ei are pronounced like the "ay" in "say"
  • an and en are pronounced like the "on" in "wrong", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • au and eau are pronounced like the "o" in "note".
  • In the endings er and ez, e is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
  • eu is pronounced like the "e" in "verse".
  • Otherwise, e is like the a in "about". However, it is silent if it comes on the end of a word, unless it's a short word.
  • é is pronounced like the "ay" in "say".
  • è and ê are pronounced like the "e" in "bed".
  • Apart from e, the three diacritics don't really affect how other vowels are pronounced.
  • i and y are pronounced like the "ee" in "tree".
  • in is pronounced like the "an" in "bank", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • o is pronounced like in "note".
  • oi is pronounced like a "w", following by the "a" in "father".
  • oin is pronounced like the "wan" in "twang".
  • on is pronounced like the "on" in "long", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.
  • ou is pronounced like the "oo" in "food".
  • œ is pronounced like the "e" in "verse" but with more rounded lips.
  • u is not a sound that exists in English. It is pronounced like saying the "ee" in "feed", but with your lips rounded in the way that you would say the word "food".
  • 'un is pronounced like the "un" in "hung", though not if there are two n letters or an e directly after it.

Consonants[change | change source]

  • Like in English, c is pronounced as a "k" before most letters but as a soft "s" before e, i or y.
  • ç is pronounced as a soft "s".
  • ch, sh and sch are pronounced like the "sh" in "shop".
  • g is pronounced as a hard "g" before most letters. Before e, i or y, it is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
  • gn is pronounced like the "ny" in "canyon".
  • h is always silent.
  • j is pronounced like the "s" in "treasure".
  • l is normally (but not always) pronounced like the "y" in "yes" if it comes after the letter i; otherwise it is pronounced as an "l".
  • m and n change if they come after a vowel - see above.
  • qu is pronounced as a "k".
  • r is pronounced differently to English, being a gargling sound made at the back of your throat.
  • th is pronounced as a "t", not like in English.
  • x is pronounced "gz" or "ks".
  • b, d, f, k, p, ph, s, t, v, w and z are pronounced the same as in English.

If a word ends with a consonant, this will usually not be pronounced unless the next word starts with a vowel. However, if the word is very short or the last consonant is a c, r, l or f, this is still pronounced.

Examples[change | change source]

Here are some examples of French words and sentences :

Word Meaning
Oui Yes (si when used as a reply to non or negative expressions)
Non No
Bonjour Hello (formal)
Au revoir Goodbye
Salut Hi and goodbye (informal)
Merci Thank you
Merci beaucoup Thank you very much
Monsieur Sir, mister
Madame Madam, Mrs.
Homme Man
Femme Woman
Fille Girl
Garçon Boy
Poulet Chicken
Formidable Wonderful
En vacances On vacation/holiday
Eau Water
Manger To eat
Parlez-vous français? Do you speak French?
Je parle français. I speak French.
Comment allez-vous? How are you? (formal or more than one person)
Comment vas-tu? How are you? (informal)
Je t'aime. I love you.
Où sont les toilettes s'il vous plaît ? Where are the toilets, please?
Comment t'appelles-tu? What is your name?
Je m'appelle... (your name) My Name is... (your name)
Je parle anglais I speak English
S'il vous plaît Please (Formal)
J'ai besoin d'un taxi I need a taxi


Many French words are like English words (because English took many words from the Norman language, a version of French influenced by Old Norse). Words in different languages with the same meaning which are spelled similarly are called cognates. Most English words ending with "tion" and "sion" originally came from the French language. See below for more examples:

Word Meaning
Non No
Théâtre Theatre
Crème Cream
Ballon Balloon
Difficile Difficult
Dragon Dragon
Rat Rat
Cinéma Cinema
Énergie Energy
Ennemi Enemy

References[change | change source]

  1. Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
  2. La langue française dans le monde 2010. La Francophonie. Retrieved 14 April 2010.
  3. (French) "Les francophones dans le monde" (Francophones in the world") — Gives details from a report. Archived 5 May 2012 at WebCite
  4. "Celtic History". http://www.celticattic.com/contact_us/the_celts/celts_facts_and_fiction.htm. Retrieved 1 August 2010.

Other websites[change | change source]