There are a few words in French with letter U which stands after G and before either A or O. Examples include words such as conjuguais and conjuguons (forms of the verb "conjuguer" — "to conjugate").
I wonder if the letter U is pronounced in these cases or is silent.
All my textbooks say that U in French is silent after G before E or I. They don't tell anything about A or O.

1 Answer 1


Quick answer: in the two examples you provide, the U's are not pronounced.

There are however cases where they would be (several additions following jlliagre’s comment below):

  • [w]: guano [ɡwano] — iguane [iɡwan] — jaguar [ʒaɡwaʁ] — Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and their derivatives
  • [ɥ]: aiguille (needle) [eɡɥij] — linguiste [lɛ̃ɡɥist]
  • [y] (typical U sound of French): aigu (feminine aiguë, acute) [eɡy]

With the verb conjuguer (as well as others in -GUER), the U is maintained in all conjugations, regardless of the letter that would otherwise be following the G. It is exceptional and unusual enough to deserve a note in most conjugation reference books.

Following comments to this post, here’s a non-exhaustive list of verbs in -GUER that also maintain the U in all conjugations:

Also divaguer and tanguer (although Larousse conjugation book puts no special note on these two, I am not accustomed to see ‘je divagais’, but rather ‘je divaguais’)

Also worth mentioning is the verb arguer, whose U is actually pronounced: [aʁɡɥe] (also commonly pronounced /aʁɡye/), and whose conjugation seem reasonably stable on the various online conjugation tools: like here or there, though Larousse have a choice for many persons and tenses, that is, many conjugations are also proposed with diaereses (j’arguë, which I suppose could also become j’argüe since the spelling reform of 1990).

And finally, the case proposed by Chambaron: two words pronounced the same ([baɡaʒ]), but with a different meaning depending on the presence or not of the U after the G: bagage (luggage) and baguage (bird-banding).

  • 2
    Other exceptions are guadeloupéen and derivatives (and similar like nicaraguayen, paraguayen, uruguayen, guatémaltèque...), iguane, jaguar, and linguiste.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:47
  • Encore quelques exceptions :
    – Chambaron
    Mar 19, 2017 at 7:31
  • Encore quelques exceptions : distinguo et distinguable, alguazil, guarani, les adjectifs en –ois ou –ais formés sur certains toponymes se terminant par le son "g" (praguois, camarguais) et les participes de quelques verbes (tanguant, zigzaguant, dialoguant, divaguant). À noter enfin le cas amusant des deux mots « bagage » (paquets) et « baguage » (fait de baguer) qui se prononcent de la même manière mais dont le sens varie avec le "u".
    – Chambaron
    Mar 19, 2017 at 7:59

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