Understanding silent letters in French

In French, some letters are silent, either at the start or at the end of a word. Here are some rules to look out for:

The silent ‘h’‎

In French, the letter h is silent. Before most words that start with h, if you need a definite ‎article use l’ rather than le or la.‎

  • L’hippopotame est heureux - The hippo is happy.‎
  • L’hôtel est en Hongrie - The hotel is in Hungary.‎
  • L’homme est très honnête - The man is very honest.‎

Silent letters at the ends of words

When the following letters are at the very end of a word, they are usually not ‎pronounced:
n, p, s, t, x, z.

  • bon - good ‎
  • beaucoup - a lot
  • les parents - parents ‎
  • chat - cat
  • gâteaux - cakes
  • vous mangez - you (plural, formal) eat

Liaisons

When a word ends in s, x, t or n and the next word starts with a vowel or an h, the s and ‎x will sound like z, and the t and the n will be pronounced. This is called ‎a ‘liaison’, as the words are linked together.‎

  • Les enfants aiment jouer au tennis - The children like playing tennis.‎
  • C’est très ennuyeux - It’s very boring.‎
  • Ma grand-mère avait deux enfants - My grandmother had two children.‎
  • Il est heureux - He is happy.‎
  • Il est allé dans un bon hôtel en Italie - He went to a good hotel in Italy.‎