Nasal Vowels

French nasal vowels
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Voyelles nasales

Nasal vowels are pronounced by passing air through the nose and mouth, in comparison to oral vowels, for which air passes only through the mouth.

Characteristics of a nasal vowel sound

  • Produced by vibrating the vocal cords
  • Pronounced with no obstruction of the throat, tongue, or lips
  • Can be a syllable on its own
  • Pronunciation is distinct from its oral vowel counterpart

Recognizing nasal vowels

Any vowel plus M or N at the end of a word is a nasal vowel.

A vowel plus m or n anywhere else in a word is nasal if the m or n is followed by another consonant. When it’s followed by a vowel, the first vowel and the m or n are both "voiced" – that is, pronounced separately, rather than as a nasal vowel.

Par exemple…

nasal voiced
un une
pain peine
ampleur ami

  You might not know it, but there are nasal vowels in English. The difference is that in English, the pronunciation of m or n is what causes the vowel in front of it to nasalize, whereas in French, the m or n is silent, serving only to nasalize the vowel.

En comparaison…

French English
on own
an on

Spelling nasal vowels

There are many different ways to spell the four different French nasal vowels:

  IPA Name Possible spellings
1. ɑ̃ nasal a an, am, en, em
2. ɛ̃ nasal i ain, aim, ein, eim, en, em, in, im, un, um, ym, yn
3. ɔ̃ nasal o on, om
4. œ̃ nasal u un, um

You can practice the four sounds with the phrase un bon vin blanc.

  À noter

There’s no vowel called the "nasal e." The spellings en and em are sometimes pronounced [ɑ̃] and sometimes [ɛ̃] – see those lessons for info.

In much of France, [œ̃] has disappeared – it’s pronounced [ɛ̃] instead.

 Related lesson

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French nasal vowels
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4 Responses

  1. RSS 6 August 2018 / 7:24

    Tout d’abord, merci pour votre effort. Ce cite est excellent!
    Isn’t it true that pain, vin can be pronounced either with the nasal i or nasal a?

  2. Stuart 20 August 2014 / 4:43

    Vous nous avez dit que [œ̃] a disparu en part et que beaucoup des français disent [ɛ̃] à la place, mais quand même, quelle est le différence entre les deux

    • lkl 20 August 2014 / 8:05

      Il y a une leçon sur chaque voyelle nasale, avec des fichiers de son. Vous pouvez aussi entendre la différence dans la phrase un bon vin blanc ci-dessus.