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