6 Common Errors in Speaking French — and Tips for Correcting Them

Though French students’ learning speeds and styles vary, some French-pronunciation  struggles are pretty much universal. Here are a few such difficulties you may encounter as a French-learner, complete with trucs et astuces — tips and tricks — to master them. And don’t feel frustrated if you don’t get these down right away — remember, of the trickiest  parts of French is that it looks nothing like it sounds! One excellent thing you can do is read texts you can listen to simultaneously. In time, nonintuitive pronunciations will become seconde nature.

1. Plus with sounded-S vs silent-S

The adverb plus can mean more or no more, depending on context. Basically, when it means more, it’s pronounced plus — with a sounded S — whereas when it means no more, it’s pronounced simply plu.*

More / sounded-S: Je veux plus de pizza = I want more pizza
No more / silent-S: Il n’y en a plus = There’s no more
Tip: a positive meaning (re: more) gets an S; a negative meaning (re: no more) gets no S
(*Note: These rules modify when plus is used as a comparative/superlative — a discussion for another time.)


2. The French U

U is a hard sound to master because we don’t have it in English. Unfortunately, in French, it’s ubiquitous. It’s not an OO — it’s narrow and tapered, sitting in the very front of your mouth.

Examples: Tu, pu, and du are just a few
Tips: Try saying EEE and OOO at the very same time. The result is — voilà — the French u, a perfect midway point between those two sounds!


3. The silent –ent

The third-person plural of most any French verb has an –ent on its end that goes totally unpronounced. This is tough for speakers of English or any other language that sounds roughly like it looks, because French never sounds like it looks! Naturally, this particular silent letter grouping can drive non-native speakers crazy.

Examples: Parlent (they speak), mangent (they eat), dansent (they dance), and zillions of others
Tips: Conjugate nearly any regular -ER or -RE verb and look at the third-person singular conjugation (a.k.a. il/elle/on). It’s pronounced exactly the same as the tricky third-person plural. In other words, il parle is pronounced the same as ils parlentil commence is the same as ils commencent, etc.
(Note: With -IR verbs, you’ll find a discrepancy between third-person singular and plural — i.e. il finit vs. ils finissent.)


4. Et” vs “est”

They look and sound almost the same, yet they’re not always pronounced the same. The t of et is always silent, whereas est can have a pronounced t when next to a vowel. (The s is never pronounced.)

Examples: “Il est anglais” (sounded T), and “il est américain et anglais” (et is silent, pronounced simply like é).
Tips: Whenever a vowel follows your est, go ahead and pronounce the T. And never pronounce the T of et!


5. The French R

This is another toughie for non-native French speakers, some of whom have never pronounced an R in the back of their throats! This R sounds a tad like a sound you’d make in English when you’re disgusted — yechhh!

Examples: rond, romantique, Russie
Tips: Think of this R as coming from the back of your tongue; it has nothing to do with the tip of your tongue or lips.


6. S vs SS

Often, a double S is pronounced as a soft sss, while the single S can be either a single s or a buzzy z. The latter depends on its placement in a given word.

Double S (soft sss-sound): réussirtasse, glisser
Single S (soft sss-sound): sucre, sacré, science
Single S (hard zzz-sound) between two vowels: hasardchaisebesoin
Tips: Remember that a single S between two vowels, will be a buzzy S, whereas if it’s a double S, that is a dead giveaway it’s soft. However, as we see above, a single S at the beginning of a word is often a soft S, as in secondIn sagesse, therefore, all S’s are soft.