Syllable division rules in French

March 23, 2024 by Mylene in Pronunciation Lessons  ▪  

A syllable is a sound or group of sounds that is pronounced with a single voice. In French, 8 out of 10 syllables end in a vowel. In what follows, I’ll show you how to separate words and sentences into syllables to master the melody of French and to get closer to the French accent.

  1. Syllabication rule
  2. Importance of vowels
  3. Enchainement
  4. Two consonants pronounced 
  5. A consonant between two vowels
  6. Case of two identical written consonants
  7. A consonant followed by a liquid consonant

1. Syllabication rule

A syllable must contain a single vowel (V). This vowel can form a syllable on its own, or it can attract one or more consonants (C).

Examples of possible syllables:

  • A vowel and no consonant pronounced: à (V) transcribed [a].
  • A vowel and a pronounced consonant: ar (VC) transcribed [aʁ] or ra (CV) transcribed [ʁa].
  • One vowel and two consonants pronounced: mar (CVC) transcribed [maʁ] or arm (VCC) transcribed [aʁm] or tra (CCV) transcribed [tʁa].
  • One vowel and three consonants pronounced: tram (CCVC) transcribed [tʁam] or stra (CCCV) transcribed [stʁa] or tree (VCCC) transcribed [aʁbʁ]. The last E of arbre is not pronounced.
  • One vowel and four consonants pronounced: stryge (CCCVC) transcribed [stʁiʒ].
  • One vowel and five consonants pronounced: strict (CCCVCC) transcribed [stʁikt].

2. The importance of vowels

One in 8 syllables in French ends with a pronounced vowel. You should try as much as possible to make the syllabic separation after the vowel.

For example, take the sentence « sur un arbre » which is pronounced « su-run-narbre »:

  • “su” ends with the phonetic vowel [y],
  • “run” ends with the phonetic vowel [ɛ̃],
  • “arbre”: The vowel e is silent. “Arbre” ends with the phonetic consonant [ʁ].

Here we are only interested in the pronounced form of words. Indeed, in writing, there remain numerous letters written and not spoken.

  • Chants: the last sound pronounced is the nasal vowel [ɑ̃]
  • La nuit: the last sound pronounced is the oral vowel [i]

3. Enchainement

In groups of words, you will use consonant sequences to link the words together. The objective is the same: end your syllable with a vowel.

  • Votre ami: The E in “votre” is silent. Votre ami is pronounced [vɔ.tʁa.mi]. The 3 syllables end with a pronounced vowel.
  • Toute étonnée: the E in “toute” is silent. Toute étonnée is pronounced []. The 3 syllables end with a pronounced vowel.
  • Le soir et la nuit is pronounced [lə.swa.ʁɥi]. The 5 syllables end with a pronounced vowel.
  • La tasse orange is pronounced [ʁɑ̃ʒ] The first 2 syllables end with a pronounced vowel.
  • La route étroite is pronounced [la.ʁu.te.tʁwat]. The first 3 syllables end in a pronounced vowel.

4. Two consonants pronounced 

When 2 pronounced consonants are next to each other, you will cut the syllable in the middle of the 2 consonants.

Example :

  • Partir is divided as follows: par-tir
  • Observer is broken down as follows: ob-ser-ver
  • Garçon: is cut as follows: gar-çon

5. A consonant between two vowels

When a single consonant is between 2 vowels, the consonant belongs to the second syllable.

  • Matin is divided as follows: ma-tin
  • Demain is divided as follows: de-main
  • Décorer is divided as follows: dé-co-rer

6. Case of 2 identical written consonants

The rule is the same. There is no difference in pronunciation of the consonant in French when there is one consonant or two identical consonants.

  • Redonner is broken down as follows re-donner
  • Bassin is divided as follows: ba-ssin
  • Appétit is divided as follows: a-ppé-tit

7. A consonant followed by a liquid consonant

If a consonant is followed by one of the two liquid consonants, R or L, then the 2 consonants are in the same syllables.

  • Mercredi is pronounced like: this mer-cre-di
  • Dédramatiser is pronounced like: this dé-dra-ma-ti-ser
  • Reproduire is pronounced like this: re-pro-duire
  • Rassemblement is pronounced like this: ra-ssem-ble-ment

Improve your French melody

I am often asked how I can get rid of my foreign accent? Better syllabic division is the answer in the majority of cases. Learn to end your syllables with vowels and you will get a better French accent. To discover other tips, you can join the pronunciation course available here.

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