I know that French orthography is actually quite regular, in the sense that while there are numerous rules and certain exceptions, it's possible in the vast majority of cases to deduce the pronunciation reliably from the spelling.

However, there are certain classes of words where the pronunciation is not predictable: œuf/œufs, and special pronunciations to facilitate disambiguation such as tous and plus. Or the fact that we write ai (from avoir) but say [e] even though usually the sequence ai represents [ɛ], or that eurent is pronounced [yʁ] even though eu is usually [ø].

I've been trying to find out other classes of French words whose pronunciation is not predictable from the orthography, but I've turned up nothing but information about irregular verbs.

  • I don't understand what you're asking. Are you looking for pronunciation rules? For a list of exceptions? Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 13:47
  • I know the pronunciation rules (the regular component of French orthography); I'm interested in the irregular component. An example of the kind of systematic irregularity I'm after would be: "the forms of avoir which have <eu> are pronounced [y], not [ø]".
    – jogloran
    Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 13:52
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    The very concepts of irregularity rules or systematic irregularity seem almost self-contradictory, even if I sort of understand what you've hoped to find. Collections of exceptions are however the only resource you'll have, I'm afraid. Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 7:08
  • The thing is, there can be systematic rules behind irregularities. Consider the strong verbs in English with vowel alternations -- I can't know a priori that to run is in the class and to gun isn't, but I know that within the class there are systematic rules. That's all I mean, and I did hesitate to write the words "systematic irregularity".
    – jogloran
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 7:12

1 Answer 1


I did end up finding what I wanted, in an 1858 book: Eugène's key to the French pronunciation.

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    Interesting to see that the pronunciation has not changed by much since then. Though, a few of the exceptions mentioned are not exceptions anymore. Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 14:45
  • @StéphaneGimenez: Ah, interesting. What's an example?
    – jogloran
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 0:47
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    For example g is not pronounced /k/ in gangrène anymore; legs is (almost) always pronounced /lɛɡ/; no exception in signet, /si.ɲɛ/; poignant /pwa.ɲɑ̃/, poignet /pwa.ɲɛ/, poignard /pwa.ɲaʁ/ are more common; the final l is voiced in baril, chenil, gril, nombril, persil, sourcil; both /ɔ.si.le/ or /ɔ.si.je/ are acceptable for osciller, pupille is commonly pronounced /py.pij/, titiller /ti.ti.je/, vasciller /va.si.je/ or /va.si.le/; cept is now written cep and the p is voiced; équitation /e.ki.ta.sjɔ̃/ has nothing special… Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 15:16
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    (For the last one, maybe you could still hear it pronounced as /e.kɥi.ta.sjɔ̃/ sometimes, with the same sound as in huit /ɥit/, but who cares…) Last, t is not voiced anymore at the end of aspect, circonspect, gratuit, respect, subit. Oh, and there is of course a bunch of words in this text that have become obsolete. Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 15:52
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    Great find, thanks! @StéphaneGimenez, "the final l is voiced in [...] persil", seems like it depends on the region: francaisdenosregions.com/tag/persil
    – dainichi
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 2:28

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