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
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.
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