Apprendre la Langue Française (Part 28): les liaisons et le enchaînment


Part of the reason that made French pronunciation and listening comprehension so difficult is due to liaisons. A liaison is the phenomenon whereby a normally silent consonant at the end of the word is pronounced at the beginning of the word that follows it.

In addition, consonants in liaisons sometimes change pronunciation (see table below).

vous [vu] vous avez [vu za vay] Letter: Sound:
ont [o(n)] ont-ils [o(n) teel] D
















un [uh(n)] un homme [uh(n) nuhm]
les [lay] les amis [lay za mee]
Pronunciation key:









nasal n

The basic requirement of a liaison is a word that ends in a normally silent consonant followed by a word that begins with a vowel or mute H. This does not mean, however, that all possible liaisons are necessarily pronounced. The pronunciation (or not) of liaisons is subject to specific rules and these are:

1. Required liaisons must be pronounced no matter what register of French is being spoken. Required liaisons occur between syntactically-related words.

The following guidelines give an idea about the kinds of grammatical situations where liaisons are required. Click on the links of phrase examples to download and listen to the sound files.

a. Nominal group – Article, number, or adjective + noun or adjective

un homme [uh(n) nuhm]
les amis [lay za mee]
deux enfants [deu za(n) fa(n)]
mes élèves [may zay lev]
petit ami [peu tee ta mee]
les anciens élèves [lay za(n) sye(n) zay lev]

b. Verbal group – Pronoun + pronoun, pronoun + verb

vous avez [vu za vey]
nous en avons [nu za(n) na vo(n)]
Ont-ils [o(n) teel]

c. Single syllable adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions

tout entier [tu ta(n) tyay]
chez elle [shay zel]
très utile [tre zu teel]
bien étrange [bye nay tra(n)zh]
quand on décidera [ka(n) to(n)]

d. Quand + est-ce que

Quand est-ce que [ka(n) te skeu]

e. Many fixed expressions like:

c’est-à-dire [say-ta-deer]
avant hier [a va(n) tyer]
plus ou moins [plu zu mwa(n)]
comment allez-vous? [ko ma(n) ta lay vu]

2. Forbidden liaisons are those which cannot be pronounced no matter what register of French is being spoken. Forbidden liaisons sometimes occur when their pronunciation would otherwise cause confusion due to a similarity with another expression.

a. After a singular noun

l’étudiant est prêt [lay tu dya(n) ay]
un garçon intelligent [gar so(n) e(n) te lee zha(n)]

b. After et (and)

en haut et en bas [e(n) o ay a(n) ba]
un garçon et une fille [u(n) gar so(n) ay un feey]

c. In front of an h aspiré

les héros [lay ay ro]
en haut [a(n) o]

d. In front of onze and oui

les onze élèves [lay o(n) zay lev]
un oui et un non [u(n) wee ay un(n) no(n)]

e. After interrogative adverbs and toujours

Combien en avez-vous? [ko(n) bye(n) a(n) na vay vu]
Comment est-il? [ko(n) ma(n) ay teel]
Quand as-tu mange? [ka(n) a tu ma(n) zhay]
toujours ici [tu zhu ree see]

f. After inversion

Sont-ils arrivés? [so(n) tee la ree vay]
Vont-elles assister? [vo(n) teh la see stay]
A-t-on étudié? [a to(n) ay tu dyay]
Parlez-vous anglais? [par lay vu a(n) gleh]

3. Optional liaisons (liaisons facultatives) are those which are pronounced in higher registers (levels of formality) and not in lower registers.

These rules are listed more or less in order from the most to least common. That is, even familiar speech will often make the first kind of liaison, while only in very high level French will the last kind of liaison be made. Click on the links of phrase examples to download and listen to the sound files.

a. After plural nouns

les hommes arrivent [uhm za reev] or [uh ma reev]
des livres utiles [liv reu zu teel] or [li vru teel]

b. Between two-part verbal structures
Je suis allé [swee za lay] or [swee a lay]
Ils ont eu [o(n) tu] or [o(n) u]
Tu vas aller [va za lay] or [va a lay]

c. Present tense of être + noun, adjective, or adverb

il est idiot [ee lay tee dyo] or [ee lay i dyo]
il est heureux [ee lay teu reu] or [ee lay eu reu]
il est ici [ee lay tee see] or [ee lay ee see]

d. After multi-syllable adverbs and prepositions

assez utile [a say zu teel] or [a say u teel]
tellement avare [tel ma(n) ta var] or [tel ma(n) a var]
après être venu [a pre zetr] or [a pre etr]
depuis un an [deu pwee zu(n)] or [de pwee u(n)]

e. Some conjunctions

mais enfin [me za(n) fe(n)] or [me a(n) fe(n)]
puis on est arrivé [pwee zo(n)] or [pwee o(n)]

f. After verbs (very high register)

Ils arriveront à midi [a ree vro(n) ta] or [a ree vro(n) a]
Elle prend un livre [pra(n) tu(n)] or [pra(n) u(n)]

There is a related phenomenon in French called enchaînement (linking). The difference between enchaînement and liaisons is: liaisons occur when the final consonant is normally silent but is pronounced due to the vowel that follows it, whereas enchaînement occurs when the final consonant is pronounced whether or not a vowel follows it.

Enchaînement is the phenomenon whereby the consonant sound at the end of a word is transferred to the beginning of the word that follows it.

Pronunciation key:
sept [set] sept enfants [se ta(n) fa(n)] a









nasal n

avec [a vek] avec elle [a ve kel]
elle [el] elle est [e le]
entre [a(n) tr] entre eux [a(n) treu]

Note that the consonant is not necessarily that last letter of the word, simple the last sound of the word. Also, note when the consonants t and r are joined, they are both tacked on to the word that follows.

Enchaînement is simply a phonetic issue, while the pronunciation of liaisons is based on linguistic ang stylistic factors. The French language doesn’t like to have syllables end in consonants, so whenever possible the final consonant is tacked onto the word that follows it. This also increases the musicality of the language.

Lexicology. In order for a liaison to be possible, it must end in a latent consonant. A latent consonant is simply a final consonant that is normally silent, but that can liaise with with the word that follows it. For example, petit ami. Not all consonants are latent. For example, the t at the end of et is a silent rather than latent consonant, and is thus never liaised.

Phonetics. Liaisons can only occur between a word that ends in a latent consonant and one that begins with a vowel or mute h. When a non-latent consonant is followed by a vowel or mute h, the transfer of the consonant to the word that follows it is now enchaînement.

Syntax. Liaisons occur between syntactically-related words that is, they occur within normal, verbal, and prepositional groups, not between these groups.

Liaison No liaison
Adjective, number, or article + noun (nominal group) Adjective, number + another kind of word
beaux enfants [bo za(n) fa(n)] Ils sont beaux à minuit [bo a]
un homme [uh(n) nuhm] Les livres sont bons ici [bo(n) ee see]
les amis [lay za mee] Donnez-en deux à Paul [deu a]
Pronoun + conjugated verb (verbal group) Pronoun + another kind of word
Vous-avez [vu zavay] Mettez-les ici [lay ee see]
Ont-ils [o(n) teel] Ceux avec qui je parle… [seu a vek]

In addition, the pronunciation of some liaisons helps to contrast similar phrases.

Ils sont vis-à-vis Ils ont être vs. avoir, grammatical contrast
Ils sautent vis-à-vis Ils ôtent different verbs, semantic contrast
Ils s’amusement vis-à-vis Ils amusement pronominal vs. active voice, voice contrast

Style. In general, the more liaisons that are pronounced, the higher register that is being spoken. In extremely refined language, such as reading poetry, every possible liaison is pronounced. In business French, not quite so many. In conversational French, a few are pronounced, while in street French, very few or optional liaisons are pronounced.

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