The question is on words like these, with their pronunciation in IPA within brackets:

lumière [lymjɛʀ], premier [pʀəmje], boire [bwaʀ], jouet [ʒwɛ]


Are the sounds [j] and [w] considered vowels or consonants?

Also, which syllabication would be correct?

(a) lu•mi•ère, pre•mi•er, bo•ire, jou•et

(b) lu•mière, pre•mier, boire, jouet

If you need context for the question of syllables: In a poem requiring twelve syllables per line how many will e.g. lumière take up?


This is what I found in Littré:

lumière [lu-miè-r'], premier [pre-mié], boire [boi-r'], jouet [jou-è]

But I am not sure if the dash represents syllabification.

  • 1
    Why would [j] and [w] be considered as consonent ? A sound is considered as a vowel if you can do it without closing your mouth (with lips or tongue). Except nasal vowel, which are semi-vowels.
    – Random
    Feb 23, 2016 at 8:16
  • 2
    @Random nasal vowels are plain vowels, not semi-vowels. The fact they are transcripted with a vowel/consonent combination doesn't change their phonetics.
    – jlliagre
    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:13
  • @jlliagre Indeed. I'm pretty sure I remember my teacher talking about nasal vowel as a particular category... I can't remember why... Maybe because vocal cords vibrate, whereas on simple vowel they don't... (It was for speech recognition purpose...)
    – Random
    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:40
  • Vocal cords usually vibrate in either cases. Nasal vowels are special because some air flow though the nose when pronouncing them, unlike oral vowels.
    – jlliagre
    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:49

1 Answer 1


[j] and [w] are considered semivowels a.k.a. glides, in French either semi-voyelles or semi-consonnes.

In poetry, syllables would be split that way:

  • lu•mière or lu•miè•re
  • pre•mier
  • boire or boi•re
  • jou•et

Lumière and boire have one less syllable when followed by a vowel, a mute h or at the end of a verse.

Note that in poetry jouet changes its pronunciation from the monosyllabic [ʒwɛ] to to the disyllabic [ʒu.ɛ]

  • So in meter semivowels are consonants, and Littré was giving me syllabification based on the word being followed by a vowel etc. Thanks again!
    – Catomic
    Feb 24, 2016 at 9:08

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