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The more I listen to spoken French, which I am doing much more of lately, the more I see that liaisons are very often not used where I expected them.

My policy in the past has generally been to place a liaison nearly anywhere that an ending consonant led into an opening vowel or h muet, but this is clearly not what should be done -- I even see pas pronounced with no liaison, for instance.

I have heard from many users here that liaisons are often a matter of preference or may vary from region to region. However, I don't really know to what extent this is true, when it's optional and when it sounds weird, and finally what the effect is of using them or not.

By that I mean that in English, there are certain rules which are not formally required, but depending on your preference to observe them or not, lend different flavors to your speech. This seems comparable to me, and I am curious what effect the usage or omission of liaisons has on the sound of a French speaker's speech, to the ear of a native speaker.

As an example of what I mean, in English one might use who or whom, but very few people use whom and its usage would make you sound a bit more formal or educated. Likewise, lie and lay are separate words which people generally use interchangeably when referring to laying down or lying down, but this variation has no effect on how one sounds because they've blended so thoroughly that nobody notices the difference.

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    There are lists of required liaisons and forbidden liaisons, anything not in those lists is optional. Here's a good basic tutorial in English: – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Feb 7 '16 at 10:08
  • GREAT LINK!!! Turns out I already knew most of that; I guess this stuff has stuck with me better than I thought. I found myself reading it and going "well duh...well duh...." but only because I've been doing it for years. That's reassuring! – temporary_user_name Feb 7 '16 at 21:26
  • Except liaisons are definitely possible after plural nouns... – GAM PUB Mar 25 '16 at 21:30
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In a nutshell: Generally speaking using liaisons when it's not absolutely necessary makes you sound formal or even stiff or old-fashioned, so pretty much a who/whom situation.

But there are a few liaisons that are more-or-less universal (a good example, mentioned in a comment, would be “deux amis”). And others are never used (or “forbidden”) so that making them will come across either as a joke or as a clumsy attempt at sounding sophisticated when you're not. So you cannot always pick and choose and even informal speech will have some.

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    Saying liaisons are mostly "formal or even stiff or old-fashioned" seems like a judgment call, not a rule. – MakorDal Mar 23 '16 at 7:38
  • @MakorDal The way I see it, it's neither a judgment call nor a “rule” (don't have much use for those, personally), it's a description of what is essentially a social fact, like everything that has to do with language. But let's turn things around: Do you agree there is such a thing as sounding formal or stiff? Isn't that something non-native speakers ought to know about or is talking about that always taboo? If you read the question (in particular the last paragraph), you will see that it's precisely what the OP was asking about... – Relaxed Mar 23 '16 at 18:13
  • @comethapaxd'ajax No, I am not suggesting that those sound formal, that's what my second and third sentences are about and I am very explicit about that (“even informal speech will have some”). Indeed, nuances is precisely why I wrote “often” (implicitly “… but not always”) Just like the OP in the question, what I am talking about is (obviously?) not the liaisons that are “mandatory” or “forbidden” but everything in between (which is apparently difficult to fathom for all those who can only think of grammar in prescriptive terms). – Relaxed Mar 23 '16 at 22:43
  • @comethapaxd'ajax Yet, it's precisely why I added not one but two qualifiers in that sentence, namely “generally speaking” and “often”. At that point, any intelligent person should read on to figure out exactly why I am so cautious. You can't seriously take that sentence out of context, ignore most of what I actually wrote to be able to beat a straw man and call me lazy to boot. Given the rest of the answer, your interpretation is clearly disingenuous and it's perfectly fair to blame you for that. – Relaxed Mar 24 '16 at 0:00
  • who/whom which is clearly about register in writing and not the mechanics of how things are pronounced”. Indeed and that's what my answer is about as well, which is why the OP accepted it! You're the only one who wants to talk about trivial cases like “deux amis” in a desperate attempt to fault me. If you read my answer with an open mind, you will easily see that I certainly haven't implied that all liaisons are stiff or old-fashioned. – Relaxed Mar 24 '16 at 0:05
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The literature on the subject is vast and involves a lot of variables (phonology, syntax, sociolinguistics, frequencies, ...). For an overview of syntactic contexts you could look at Bonami & al. (2014, §3.1.1) and the different studies cited therein.

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