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

Updated: December 29, 2023 by Mylene in PhoneticArray  ▪  

spell semi vowels in french

They are called semi-vowels or semi-consonants. Semi-vowels in French form an intermediate category between consonants and vowels. Once you know how to pronounce the sounds, you will have to learn to recognize these phonetic semi-vowels in writing.

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

Write semi-vowels in French

To begin, listen to the correct pronunciation of semi-vowels in French that I present in this video.

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What is a semi-vowel in French?

Semi-vowels in French have the voice quality of a vowel, but cannot be a single syllable. They are always followed by a phonetic vowel. In French, there are three semi-vowels noted [j], [w], and [ɥ] in the phonetic alphabet.

The first two semi-vowels are present in English. The sound [j] is pronounced in the word “yes“ and the sound [w] is pronounced in the word “wagon“ in English.

When you pronounce a semi-consonant, you must make a sequence with the following vowel. With this type of enchainement, there is no pause between the vowel and the semi-consonant.

How to spell the /j/ sound in French?

There are 5 ways to spell the [j] sound:

  • y, for example: yeux, yaourt, payer, rayon
  • i, for instance: piano, hier, bien, papier
  • ï, for example: aïeux, faïence, paranoïa, païen
  • il, for example: travail, accueil, bercail, fenouil, treuil
  • ille, for instance: merveille, famille, fille, conseille, nouille

How to spell the /w/ sound in French?

There are 7 ways to spell the [w] sound:

  • ou, for instance: oui, avouer, éblouir, loua, échouer
  • oi, for example: mois, boire, parfois, espoir, Loire
  • qu, for instance: aquarium, adéquat, équateur, quaternaire, équation
  • gu, for instance: jaguar
  • oê, for example: poêle
  • w, for instance: watt
  • oe, for example: moelle

How to spell the /Ɥ/ sound in French?

There is one way to spell the [ɥ] sound:

  • u, for instance: huit, aujourd’hui, annuel, actualité, distribuer

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 oral vowel sounds in French?

write vowels in french phonetic alphabet

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