AI and AIS

French pronunciation

The letter combination ai has two different pronunciations.

At the end of a verb, ai is pronounced like é.

j’ai present tense of avoir
je serai future tense of être
je donnai passé simple of donner

Otherwise, ai is pronounced like è.

j’aime present tense of aimer
je serais conditional of être
je donnais imperfect of donner

Note how the s changes the pronunciation so that you can hear the difference between the future and conditional, as well as between the passé simple and the imperfect.

In words that are not verbs, ai is almost always pronounced è.

Par exemple…
é sound   è sound
j’ai I have   je t’aime I love you
je serai I will be   je serais I would be
je donnai I gave   je donnais I was giving
      anglais English
      frais fresh, cool
      lait milk

  AI is pronounced differently in other letter combinations: AIL | AIN

  The pronunciation of the letter combination ai is a matter of some debate among French speakers. This lesson is based on my personal experience and extensive research, but there are regional variations and opposing viewpoints: some say that there is a difference between ai and ais at the end of verbs, some recognize it but don’t pronounce it themselves, and others insist it simply doesn’t exist. If you leave a comment, please mention where you’re from to put your pronunciation into context.

 Related lessons

 Share / Tweet / Pin Me!

French pronunciation
Stay up to date with Lawless French!
Twitter Facebook Google+ Instagram Pinterest YouTube RSS Newsletter

Any Questions?

 Get help on the forum.
  
 

More Lawless French

 Subscribe to my twice-weekly newsletter.
       

Support Lawless French

  This free website is created with love and a great deal of work.

If you love it, please consider making a one-time or monthly donation.

Your support is entirely optional but tremendously appreciated.

2 Responses

  1. lisalu 8 July 2015 / 10:07

    I’ve had native speakers tell me different things about this. One friend, a native Parisien, tells me “there is no difference” between how you said “je serai” and “je serais”. Another native speaker from Benin tells me there is a very distinct difference with the conditional form sounding more like “eh” and the future form sounding more like the long “a” sound. I suspect that the Parisien friend is just so used to hearing the distinction, as slight as it is, that he doesn’t notice the difference. (The other friend is a French teacher and therefore is probably more attuned to pronunciation.)

  2. Kristen Kim 22 October 2014 / 12:07

    I’ve been a high school French teacher for over 20 years. I’m not a native speaker, but I have studied and worked in France and have several French friends from different parts of France. I also have a few native speakers in my classes. From my experience, the distinction between ai/ais tends to be more observed in the Paris region, and in other parts of France not as much, if at all. I was told by a Parisian friend that I don’t make the distinction, whereas I really should. I have been making a more conscious effort to do so, but I know I don’t always do. I don’t hear that distinction made by my native speakers, and none of them are from Paris. One of them is from Nice. I studied in Strasbourg.

Comments or questions about this page?