Learn to pronounce the vowel Y

Updated: August 28, 2023 by Mylene in Pronunciation Lessons  ▪  

pronunciation french vowel y

Learning proper pronunciation in French immediately becomes much simpler when you take the time to learn a few key tricks. This is exactly what I propose to teach you in this article. Together, we will thoroughly discover the proper way to pronounce the sometimes tricky vowel Y in the French language. With just a bit of focused practice using these tips, you’ll find mastering pronunciation tremendously easier.

  1. Y is pronounced [i]
  2. The YN and YM exceptions
  3. Y is pronounced [j]
  4. Exceptions
  5. Y pronunciation video

1. Y is pronounced [i]

When the vowel y is followed by a consonant different from N and M you will pronounce the sound [i] as in the words:

  • rythme rhythm [ʁitm]
  • physique physics [fizik]

2. The YN and YM exceptions

YN, YM + consonant

When the vowel Y is followed by the consonants N or M + another consonant, in this case you will pronounce the nasal vowel [ɛ̃] as in the words:

  • sympathique sympathetic [sɛ̃patik]
  • synthèse synthesis [sɛ̃tɛz]

YM at the end of a word

When YM is at the end of the word, you will pronounce the nasal vowel [ɛ̃] as in the word thym thyme [tɛ̃].

3. Y is pronounced [j]

Y at the beginning of a word

When the vowel Y is located at the beginning of a word in front of another vowel, in this case you will pronounce the semi-vowel [j] as in the word:

  • yeux eyes [jø]
  • yoga yoga [joga]
  • yaourt yoghurt [jauʁt]

Y between 2 vowels

When the vowel Y is between two vowels you will have to imagine that the vowel Y breaks down into two vowels I, for example:

  • rayon: I decompose the Y into 2i so I have the first syllable which is pronounced “rai” and the second “ion”: ray = rai-ion. Rayon is pronounced [ʁe.jɔ̃].
  • voyelle vowel = voi-ielle = [vwa.jɛl].
  • gruyère = grui-ière = [grɥi.jɛʁ]
  • crayon pencil = crai-ion = [kre.jɔ̃]
  • pagayer paddle = pagai-ier = [pa.ge.je]
  • balayer sweep = balai-ier = [ba.le.je]

Exceptions

There are some rare exceptions, such as in the word:

  • mayonnaise: in this case the Y does not break down into two i but you pronounce the semi-vowel [j]
  • mayonnaise is pronounced [ma.jɔ.nɛz]
  • La Fayette is pronounced [la.fa.jɛt]
  • kayak is pronounced [ka.jak]

4. Exceptions

In country family words, you should pronounce the [i] sound like:

  • pays country [pe.i].
  • paysage landscape [pe.i.zaʒ].
  • dépaysé [de.pe.i.ze].

5. Video on the pronunciation of the letter Y

Watch this video to learn how to pronounce the French vowel Y. To discover other novelties, subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow me on Instagram.

YouTube player

Continue learning

In conclusion, I hope that this article has helped clarify the pronunciation of the vowel Y in French. As we have seen, there are some simple rules for properly pronouncing this vowel in French, depending on its position in the word and adjacent letters. Practice regularly by listening to recordings and repeating them out loud. Pronunciation is gradually acquired.

It’s important not to give up and to continually look for the tricks that work for you. If you want to learn more tricks you should read the article about the pronunciation of the letters EU. Have fun exploring the different sounds of the French language!

Suggested Reading

Phonetic alphabet: How to spell semi-vowels in French?

spell semi vowels in french

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