OU vs U

Tricky French pronunciation

OU vs U - French pronunciation
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The French u is one of the most difficult sounds for English speakers, and as an added bonus, can be difficult to distinguish from ou.

The letter combination ou, IPA [u], is the easier of the two sounds. It’s similar to the ou in "you" except it does not diphthong into [w] at the end – learn more.

The letter u in French, IPA [y], is much more difficult, largely because there is no similar sound in English. Again, "ou" is the closest, but u is very distinct – at least to French ears. U is pronounced with protruding, tightly pursed lips – learn more.

To help you distinguish between these two sounds, I’ve collected an assortment of minimal pairs: words that are pronounced exactly the same other than the vowel. There are also homophones (words that are pronounced identically) listed underneath.

U vs OU – minimal pairs

bu(past participle)drank  (from boire) la bouemud
le but goal le bouttip
      
la bûche log la bouchemouth
      
la bulle bubble la bouleball
      
le bureau desk, office le bourreautorturer*
      
le cul ass   le couneck  
q(letter)q le coupblow
      
la cure treatment la courcourtyard
    le courscourse
    le courtcourt
      
dessus on top dessousunderneath
      
du(contraction)de + le douxsweet
(past participle)had to  (from devoir)   
      
eu(past participle)had  (from avoir) ouor
u(letter)u where
    la houehoe
      
je jure I swear  (from jurer) le jourday
      
le jus juice la jouecheek
    je joueI play
      
lu(past participle)read  (from lire) le loupwolf
    je loueI rent
      
(past participle)moved (from mouvoir) mousoft  
la mue moulting la mouepout
      
nu naked nouswe, us
      
pu(past participle)could  (from pouvoir) un poulouse
il pue it stinks  (from puer) un poulspulse
le pus pus   
      
la puce flea le poucethumb  
    la poussesprout
      
le pull sweater la poulehen
      
pur pure pourfor
      
la rue street la rouewheel
    rouxred-headed
      
russe Russian roussered-headed
      
su(past participle)knew  (from savoir) un soucent  
    sousunder
      
tu you toutall, every
tu(past participle)quieted  (from taire) la touxcough
il tue he kills  (from tuer)   
      
le tutu tutu  (ballet skirt) le toutoudoggie
      
vu(past participle)seen  (from voir) vousyou
la vue view   

* Not really much of a difference in meaning between these two, is there? Ha ha! 🙂

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French pronunciation: OU vs U

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