Tricky 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|
|la cure||treatment||la cour||courtyard|
|du||(contraction)||de + le||doux||sweet|
|dû||(past participle)||had to (from devoir)|
|eu||(past participle)||had (from avoir)||ou||or|
|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|
|mû||(past participle)||moved (from mouvoir)||mou||soft|
|la mue||moulting||la moue||pout|
|pu||(past participle)||could (from pouvoir)||un pou||louse|
|il pue||it stinks (from puer)||un pouls||pulse|
|la puce||flea||le pouce||thumb|
|le pull||sweater||la poule||hen|
|la rue||street||la roue||wheel|
|su||(past participle)||knew (from savoir)||un sou||cent|
|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|
* Not really much of a difference in meaning between these two, is there? Ha ha! 🙂
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