Phonetic alphabet: How to spell oral vowel sounds in French?

Updated: December 29, 2023 by Mylene in Phonetic  ▪  

write vowels in french phonetic alphabet

Vowels are the core of syllables in French. Each vowel must be pronounced distinctly to ensure proper understanding. Once you know how to pronounce the sounds you have to learn to recognize these vowels in writing.

In this article, you’ll discover how to write all the vowels of the phonetic alphabet in French. The order of presentation is from the most common cases to the most difficult ones that include exceptions. The different sections of this article are:

Write Oral vowels in french

To begin, watch this video to listen to the correct pronunciation of oral vowels that are part of the phonetic alphabet.

YouTube player

In addition to the oral vowels, semi-vowels in French constitute a category in-between consonants and vowels. Please check out the detailed information about the spelling of semi-vowels in French.

How to spell the /i/ sound in french?

There are 4 ways to spell the /i/sound:

  • i, for example: rire, il, aussi, cantine
  • y, for example: style, hymne, pyramide, type
  • ï, for example: maïs, héroïque, inouï, ambiguïté
  • î, for example: île, huître, gîte, dîner

How to spell the /e/ sound in French?

There are 11 ways to spell the /e/sound:

  • é, for example: été, beauté, école, bébé
  • e, for example: essence, erreur, effrayer,
  • er, for example: chanter, manger, boulanger, boucher
  • ez, for example: assez, chez, nez, vous parlez
  • es, for example: les, mes, tes, ces
  • ai, for example: il sait, j’allai, j’entrai
  • ay, for example: essayer, rayon, payant,
  • ey, for example: seyant, grasseyer, mareyeur, volleyeur
  • ef, in one word: clef
  • ë, for example: canoë
  • ed, in one word: pied

How to spell the /ɛ/ sound in French?

There are 7 ways to spell the /ɛ/sound:

  • è, for example: père, siècle, espèce, modèle
  • ê, for example: fenêtre, fête, forêt, rêve
  • e, for example: elle, escalier, sagesse, exemple
  • ei, for example: reine, neige, baleine, peigne
  • ai, for example: air, j’irais, chaise, fontaine
  • et, for example: jouet, alphabet, billet, sujet
  • ë, in one word: Noël

How to spell the /a/ sound in French?

There are 5 ways to spell the /a/sound:

  • a, for example: ami, par, délicat, salade
  • à, for example: à, voilà, déjà, au-delà
  • oi, for example: poids, trois, fois, choix
  • â, for example: bâtiment, pâte, tâcher, tâter
  • e, for example: femme, récemment, prudemment, ardemment

How to spell the /y/ sound in French?

There are 4 ways to spell the /y/sound:

  • u, for example: dur, pur, cru, chute
  • û, for example: mûr, sûr, nous fûmes, dû
  • eu, for example: j’eus, tu eus, il eut
  • eû, for example: qu’il eût, nous eûmes, vous eûtes

How to spell the /Ø/ sound in French?

There are 3 ways to spell the /ø/sound:

  • eu, for example: heureux, peu, jeudi, bleu
  • oeu, for example: voeu, des oeufs, des boeufs, noeud
  • eû, for example: jeûne

How to spell the /œ/ sound in French?

There are 3 ways to spell the /œ/sound:

  • eu, for example: peur, feuille, neuf, heure
  • oeu, for example: un oeuf, coeur, soeur, oeuvre
  • oe, for example: oeil

Here’s an article where you can find more about the pronunciation of the letter EU in French.

How to spell the /Ə/ sound in French?

There are 3 ways to spell /ə/ sound:

  • e, for example: je, demain, petit, mesure
  • ai, for example: faisant, bienfaisant, faisais, faisable
  • on, for example: monsieur

How to spell the /o/ sound in French?

There are 4 ways to spell the /o/sound:

  • o, for example: moto, chose, lavabo, trop
  • au, for example: chaud, aube, auditeur, jaune
  • eau, for example: beau, cadeau, bateau, beaucoup
  • ô, for example: tôt, nôtre, impôt, bientôt

How to spell the /Ɔ/ sound in French?

There are 3 ways to spell the /ɔ/sound:

  • o, for example: homme, sort, innove, solde
  • au, for example: restaure, Paul, Laure
  • u, for example: album, forum, maximum, uranium

How to spell the /u/ sound in French?

There are 2 ways to spell the /u/sound:

  • ou, for example: nous, amour, fou, tous
  • où, for example: où

The groups of vowels

The phonological system of French vowels is characterized by series of oppositions between labialized and non-labialized vowels, oral vowels and nasal vowels, open vowels and closed vowels. We can find different classifications according to the way of examining the phonemes. You can discover other information by going to consult the pronunciation guide of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Book a study session

Learning the pronunciation on your own can be very difficult. You need someone to explain to you where your mistakes are. This video is very educational but to overcome all your French pronunciation difficulties book a study session to receive personalized advice.

Suggested Reading

Phonetic alphabet: How to spell consonants in French?

write consonants in french phonetic alphabet

Leave a Comment