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It’s no accident that spoken French is beautiful – there are actually grammatical changes required to maintain euphony (agreeable or harmonious sound). This contributes to French’s musicality, with words flowing together and sounds added to avoid hiatus (the pause created by adjacent vowel sounds: at the end of one word and the beginning of the next). French doesn’t like hiatus, so there are various ways of avoiding it.
Required euphonic techniques
Most single-syllable words that end in a vowel (usually e) drop it when the next word begins with a vowel sound.
|je + ai >||j’ai|
Nine adjectives change form in front of vowels.
|ma + amie >||mon amie|
|[ma a mi]||[mɔ̃ na mi]|
A verb ending in a vowel followed by il, elle, or on requires the addition of t– in between: this is called le T euphonique.
|parle + elle >||parle-t-elle|
|[paʁl ɛl]||[paʁl tɛl]|
|va + y >||vas-y|
|[va i]||[va zi]|
The sound at the end of a word is transferred onto the word that follows.
|elle est >||elle est|
|[ɛl e]||[ɛ le]|
Unlike the rest of the techniques in this lesson, enchaînement does not avoid hiatus, but rather maintains the musical flow by connecting words.
Potentially required euphonic technique
Would-be silent sounds at the end of words are sometimes transferred onto the word that follows.
|les idées >||les idées|
|[le i de]||[le zi de]|
Optional euphonic techniques
|ce qu’on pense >||ce que l’on pense|
|[sə kɔ̃ pãs]||[sə kə lɔ̃ pãs]|
Likewise, l’ may precede the indefinite pronoun un.
|un de vos amis >||l’un de vos amis|
|[œ̃ də vo za mi]||[lœ̃ də vo za mi]|
What does “optional” mean?
Just what it sounds like: you can use le L euphonique or not, it’s correct either way. Using it is more formal, so in a discussion with your boss, for example, it’s generally a good idea to use it. In comparison, you probably won’t when talking to your potes. A good rule of thumb is to use the optional euphonic techniques with people you vouvoie, but it’s really not that big a deal. Under-using euphony is not potentially offensive the way tutoieing someone you should use vous with is.
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