Perhaps the best advice I’ve received about speaking French is this: exaggerate. Pronounce every word like you’re a mustache-wearing expressionist painter slinging a baguette over his shoulder while riding a bicycle along the Seine.
French mixes sing-songy highs with guttural lows. If you only put in half of an effort, you’ll end up sounding more like John Oliver than Audrey Tautou. So, to really nail it you’ve got to pretend like you’re disgusted for the “u,” stuff some gravel down your throat for the “r,” and squeal just a little bit for the -ouille.
For those who might think they’re becoming a pronunciation pro, take a stab at some of the hardest French words to pronounce.
1. “Fourrure” (Fur)
The French word for “fur,” this pronunciation brings with it several challenges. The most obvious challenge with the word “fourrure” is the “rr” and “r” back-to-back. That’s double the challenge of striking the the perfect amount of guttural noise-making that is the French “r.”
Also difficult is transitioning between the back-to-back “ou” and “u.” While “ou” is pronounced like a low-pitched “ooh,” the “u” is more of a high-pitched “ew!” As for nailing the French “u,” my high school French teacher has this suggestion: shape your mouth as if you were about to say the letter “o” and instead try saying “i.” You may look silly doing it, but it works!
2. “Inébranlablement” (Unshakably)
Not as bad as “anticonstitutionnellement,” the longest word in the French language, “inébranlablement” nonetheless has six syllables of fluctuating high and low sounds that are difficult to keep track of.
3. “Vadrouiller” (Travel aimlessly)
A stellar word in its own right — meaning to travel aimlessly — vadrouiller is tough because of the -ouille. Other words that fit into this category include: “grenouille,” meaning frog, “bouillir,” to boil, and “patrouille,” as in a patrol.
For an added bonus, check out the movie “La Grande Vadrouille” if you’re looking for a World War II-themed comedy.
4. “Purpurin” (Purple-like)
One of those I-read-it-in-a-book-once words, “purpurin” is a poetic way of describing something purple-like.
It is almost impossible to say, and doubles up on a word, “pur,” that is already difficult enough to pronounce on its own.
5. “Serrurerie” (Locksmith)
The most difficult word in this list, and arguably the most difficult word to pronounce in the French language, a “serrurerie” is a locksmith’s shop.
This word has three straight “r” sounds interspersed with vowels, the middle of which is the pesky “u.” Try saying this one five times fast, or, like, just once.
6. “Yaourt” (Yogurt)
“Yaourt,” French for yogurt, starts on a high note and simply fades into a mysterious oblivion, leaving the speaker questioning whether the word ever really ended or not. The silent “t” at the end is preceded by a mess of vowels that sound more like a caveman yawning than a modern-day language.
7. “Écureuil” (Squirrel)
The only French sound worse to pronounce than the “-ouille,” just might be the “-euil,” which appears in words from “écureuil” (squirrel) to “deuil” (mourning). “-Euil” is the sound one makes when they don’t know whether to be exasperated or exhausted, and it is also a sound many make in frustration when they can’t pronounce a different French word.
8. “Quincaillerie” (Hardware store)
The French word for “hardware store” will trip you up because the first two syllables both start with a hard “k” sound but come out sounding completely different based on the following letters. English speakers will have the instinct to add a diphthong and shrink the first syllable, when it needs to come out as an attack, like a bird calling, “Cah!” It should come out sounding a bit like “cah-kai-ree.”
9. “Œil” (Eye)
One of the most basic French vocabulary words is also one that trips up a lot of French learners. The word for “eye,” œil, involves a diphthong that ends up sounding a bit like a flattened version of “oy.”
10. “Havre” (Harbor)
Le Havre is a beautiful place, but its name will take some getting used to for foreigners. Havre, which means “harbor,” really only requires the pronunciation of two letters. “Av” is the meat of the word, with a gentle “r” sound afterward that will make you choke just when you think you’ve gotten the rest of the word out without a hitch.
11. “Heureux” (Happy)
It’s far easier to be triste (sad) in French than heureux (happy)… or at least, it’s easier to say you are. Heureux requires two short bursts of air, an “uh,” and a “ruh.” If you sound like a disgruntled dog, or like you’re clearing your throat, then you have succeeded.
12. “Chirurgien” (Surgeon)
If you ask for a surgeon in French, they might think you really need one – the word chirurgien is quite a mouthful, especially with the back to back “r” sounds. You really have to roll with the “r,” full speed ahead before swallowing it with the “g.”
13. “Rural” (Rural)
You’re not done with the double “r.” The word “rural” is hard enough to pronounce in English, but in French you have to maintain a perfect “o” shape with your mouth while pushing one “r” straight into the other through the back of your throat.
14. “Anticonstitutionnellement” (Unconstitutionally)
The longest word in French, anticonstitutionnellement, which means “unconstitutionally,” isn’t necessarily hard to pronounce in terms of individual sounds, but it can be easy to get lost in the 25 letters and numerous syllables involves. Bon courage.
15. “Bonjour” (Hello)
We often take this one for granted, because it’s usually the first word people learn in French, but dipping from a pursed-lipped “bon” into “jour,” with its elongated vowel sound and silent “r,” is a tough sell, especially for newcomers.
– What is the hardest French word to pronounce?
Many English speakers cite écureil as the hardest French word to pronounce.
– What is the French word with most silent letters?
Many French words like heureux, beaucoup, and hors d’œuvres are packed full of silent letters.
– What is the longest French word?
The longest French word, at 25 letters, is anticonstitutionnellement, meaning, “unconstitutional.”