Consonants are sounds created by blocking or hindering the passage of air through the mouth in some way. Compare [p], for which you briefly close your lips before forcing the air through, to [a], for which your mouth remains open.
Characteristics of a consonant sound
- Produced by vibrating the vocal cords
- Pronounced with some obstruction of the throat, tongue, or lips
- Cannot be a syllable on its own
- Every French consonant except r is pronounced closer to the front of the mouth than its English equivalent.
- The French tongue always remains tensed.
- French consonants do not have an initial aspiration, but do have a slight aspiration at the end. For example, when saying "carrot," an English speaker is likely to pronounce the final t without re-opening his mouth at the end, so that sound is quite soft. But in French, the t at the end of "carotte" is followed by a slight aspiration, which results in a distinct t sound. See lessons on specific letters for more information.
- At the end of words, French consonants are often silent.
Lessons on individual consonants
There are three different ways to categorize French consonant sounds:
|Voiced | Sonore||Vocal cords vibrate||B, D, G, GN, J, L, M, N, NG, R, V, Z|
|Unvoiced | Sourde||Vocal cords do not vibrate||CH, F, K, P, S, T|
* Place your hand on your neck and make the sounds "b" and "p" (just the consonant sound, not the name of the letter). You should feel your vocal cords vibrate when you say "b" but not when you say "p." Do the same thing with other pairs and you’ll feel how similar they are, with just the vibration or lack thereof making the distinction.
2. Manner of articulation | Manière d’articulation
|Plosive | Occlusive||Passage of air is blocked to produce the sound||B, D, G, K, P, T|
|Fricative||Passage of air is hindered||CH, F, J, R, S, V, Z|
|Liquid | Liquide||Can follow other consonants to make new sounds||L, R|
|Nasal | Nasale||Passage of air is through both the nose and the mouth||GN, M, N, NG|
3. Place of articulation | Lieu d’articulation
|Bilabial | Bilabiale||Lips touching||B, M, P|
|Labiodental | Labiodentale||Upper teeth touching lower lip||F, V|
|Dental | Dentale||Tongue touching upper teeth||D, L, N, T*|
|Alveolar | Alvéolaire||Tongue behind the upper teeth||S, Z|
|Palatal||Back of the tongue near the palate||CH, GN, J|
|Velar | Vélaire||Back of the tongue against upper throat||G, K, NG, R|
*The equivalent English sounds are alveolar.
Click for detailed lessons
- French consonants for beginners
- IPA for consonants
- French alphabet