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 boue mud
le but   goal   le bout tip
           
la bûche   log   la bouche mouth
           
la bulle   bubble   la boule ball
           
le bureau   desk, office   le bourreau torturer*
           
le cul   ass     le cou neck  
q (letter) q   le coup blow
           
la cure   treatment   la cour courtyard
        le cours course
        le court court
           
dessus   on top   dessous underneath
           
du (contraction) de + le   doux sweet
(past participle) had to  (from devoir)      
           
eu (past participle) had  (from avoir)   ou or
u (letter) u   where
        la houe hoe
           
je jure   I swear  (from jurer)   le jour day
           
le jus   juice   la joue cheek
        je joue I play
           
lu (past participle) read  (from lire)   le loup wolf
        je loue I rent
           
(past participle) moved (from mouvoir)   mou soft  
la mue   moulting   la moue pout
           
nu   naked   nous we, us
           
pu (past participle) could  (from pouvoir)   un pou louse
il pue   it stinks  (from puer)      
le pus   pus      
           
la puce   flea   le pouce thumb  
        la pousse sprout
           
le pull   sweater   la poule hen
           
pur   pure   pour for
           
la rue   street   la roue wheel
        roux red-headed
           
russe   Russian   rousse red-headed
           
su (past participle) knew  (from savoir)   un sou cent  
        sous under
           
tu   you   tout all, every
tu (past participle) quieted  (from taire)   la toux cough
il tue   he kills  (from tuer)      
           
le tutu   tutu  (ballet skirt)   le toutou doggie
           
vu (past participle) seen  (from voir)   vous you
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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