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Are there any consistent rules for when a consonant is pronounced at the end of a word in French?

I have seen the mnemonic CAREFUL, with the general rule that all word terminal consonants are silent except -c, -r, -f,, -l; and the rule STUPID saying -s, -t, -p, -d are always silent, but these seem to have many exceptions:

  • sac /sac/ - tabac /ta.ba/
  • hier /jɛʁ/ - dernier /dɛʁ.nje/
  • chef /ʃɛf/ - clef /kle/
  • avril /a.vʁil/ - gentil /ʒɑ̃.ti/

  • gris /gʁi/ - vis /vis/
  • nuit /nɥi/ - huit /ɥit/
  • drap /dʁa/ - cap /ka/
  • pied /pje/ - sud /sud/
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The following paper posits a different set of rules which (when tested on their corpus) proved to be much more accurate than the "careful" principle:

Our proposal, then, is the following. In conjunction with a pedagogical norm which requires students at elementary levels of the study of French to produce only obligatory liaisons, we suggest that students learn that in nonliaison environments, final consonant letters are not pronounced, with the following exceptions:

  1. -r is pronounced [r] when it is not in an -er infinitive or in one of the following sequences: -ier (-yer), -ger, -cher;

  2. -l is pronounced [j] in sequences of a vowel followed by -il and as [l] in other cases;

  3. -f is pronounced [f]; and

  4. -c is pronounced [k] except after n, where it is silent.

In addition, students would have to learn on an individual basis the 53 exceptional items, which we list below:

  • fier, hier, cher, monsieur, oreiller;
  • outil, fusil, gentil, sourcil;
  • clef, nerf, cerf;
  • donc, tabac, estomac, porc, caoutchouc;
  • sud;
  • sandwich;
  • bifteck;
  • film, islam, maximum, minimum, aluminium;
  • cap;
  • coq, cinq;
  • sens, fils, autobus, omnibus, os, ours, mars, vis, express, maïs, terminus;
  • exact, net, direct, indirect, ouest, est, deficit, intact, sept, cet, huit;
  • six, dix;
  • gaz.

The general principle and its four statements of exceptions provide for a predictive accuracy of 97.3% (1874 of 1927 cases), which is considerably more efficient than the traditional "careful" principle (60.71%, 1171 of 1927 cases). And surely, a list of 53 exceptional items which must be memorized is incidental when compared to the task of learning 1927 final consonant letter occurrences on a word-by-word basis, if one opts for not teaching any general principle for final consonant letter pronunciation in French.


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| improve this answer | |
  • Je ne comprends pas la liste des 53 exceptions. On prononce le c comme un k dans donc, on prononce le l final dans sourcil, qu'est-ce qu'un(e) mazs ? Que viennent faire monsieur et oreiller dans la liste « fier, hier, cher, monsieur, oreiller » ? En quoi sandwich et bifteck sont des exceptions ? – Toto Feb 15 at 13:40
  • @Toto: peut-être un mazs c'est le maïs. – Peter Shor Feb 15 at 20:05
  • @petershor yep it should be maïs, the paper has the correct spelling, was an OCR error copy pasting it. – ukemi Feb 15 at 21:33
  • @Toto the 4th rule is "-c is pronounced [k] except after n, where it is silent." - donc is an exception to this caveat. Sourcil's pronunciation is dialect dependent it seems: french.stackexchange.com/questions/7516/… As for bifteck and sandwich, I think how you classify it depends on which consonant (or whether you consider the digraphs 'one' consonant) in the orthography corresponds to the pronunciation. – ukemi Feb 15 at 21:47

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