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When 'suis' is followed by a vowel the final s is pronounced, i.e. Je suis allé.

But what if I pronounce the silent s before a consonant? What would be the reaction of a native French speaker? Would they clearly understand what I mean? Would they easily get it when I say Je suis là with the final s pronounced?

Also, what about other words like 'et', 'Paris', 'nouveaux' etc. ? Is it any possible to communicate with a native speaker -kind of fluently- if silent letters were pronounced? As far as I know these letters were pronounced sometime in history.

Thank you.

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    Out of curiosity, any reason why you would want to pronounce them?
    – Sacha
    Jun 14 at 18:13
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    In my experience, taking into account silent letters is not a major issue for non native speakers. They quickly got it mostly right with a few practice. Pronouncing phonems that do not exist in their own language like nasals vowels, the French U (IPA /y/) except for Germans, the J for Spanish people, and so on is much more of a challenge.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 14 at 23:34
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    You probably wouldn't if you were learning French in a systematic way. By the time you get to learning "Je suis allé" with the s pronounced, it would have already been drilled into you not to pronounce the s in Je suis. As for "nouveaux", again, you would be taught or would learn that the final x for a plural is not pronounced. Besides, how would you even pronounce the x in nouveaux? So, if you are trying to pronounce the x in nouveaux, you are trying to read French and no one told you....
    – Lambie
    Jun 15 at 14:20
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    If someone actually pronounce all the silent letters of French words, some sentences would be partially or totally incomprehensible. For example Ils prennent deux Peugeots would perhaps be pronounced /ils prɛnɛnt døks pøʒ[e]ots/ vs the expected /il prɛn dø pøʒo/. On the other hand, confusing words genders would be mostly harmless. We are used to hear people whose native language lacks grammatical genders, especially English, mixing up them all the time.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 16 at 7:00
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    @jlliagre Ok it looks like 'if the non-native speaker makes mistakes from time to time and you understand what they are talking about' both silent letters and genders are not a really big issue. Thank you.
    – Xfce4
    Jun 16 at 14:39
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It is not possible to communicate "kind of fluently" this way in French. It's so widespread a rule that it affects a vast number of words, and in some cases it's not only aesthetic, but it changes the meaning.

For example, if you have two possible subjects of which one is singulier and the other plural, the final letter (e.g. the /n/ or /t/ in viennent vs. vient) allows you to distinguish which one is meant:

-- Il vient à la fête.
-- Bon, j'ai hâte de le rencontrer. On me dit que c'est une personne très amusante.

-- Ils viennent à la fête.
-- Oh là là, il est en couple maintenant ?

Or if you have two groups of people, one feminine and one masculine, the final letter might allow you to distinguish which one is meant. In the comments jlliagre has constructed an example where you might use an adjective to refer to a group. Imagine four teams playing a match:

boys girls
junior les petits les petites
senior les grands les grandes

-- Qui a gagné ?
-- Les grands [the senior boys] ! / Les grandes [the senior girls]!
-- Non, ce sont les petits [the junior boys] ! / les petites [the junior girls] !

Even the s (more accurately the /z/) at the end of suis could cause confusion. If it occurred before a consonant, the listener would be likely to perceive a short syllable starting with a vowel before the consonant, or perhaps assume they missed the /l/ of the direct object les, which would change the meaning.

So there's plenty of opportunity for confusion. And in sentences where there's none, it would still interfere with comprehension — like someone speaking Pig Latin is hard to understand because of all the extra "ay" sounds.

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  • Thank you for the response. I get it like this, sometimes it is not a big issue but at times it would change the meaning or result in confusion. Your explanation was neat. Especially that the native speaker might think that they have missed a word was a nice point to mention.
    – Xfce4
    Jun 14 at 23:47
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    Il faudrait que tu trouves un autre exemple car c'est trop longue ne marche pas, long s'accordant toujours au masculin avec ce. J'ai cherché un peu, mais ce n'est pas si facile, et il est tard...
    – jlliagre
    Jun 15 at 0:46
  • @jlliagre Alors, d'autres adjectifs peuvent apparaître au féminin avec ce, ou devrais-je changer ça aussi?
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 15 at 2:58
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    Non, l'accord avec ce qui est un pronom "neutre" est forcément toujours au masculin. Voici un exemple qui peut marcher. Admettons qu'il y ait une compétition entre les filles et les garçons d'un club ayant deux sections, les "petits" et les "grands". Il y a donc quatre groupes (PF, PG, GF, GG). Si on demande: Qui a gagné ? et que la réponse est Les grands !, ça signifie que c'est le groupe de garçons de la section des grands qui a gagné. Si on prononce le D, ce sera compris comme Les grandes ! et l'information sera incorrecte.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 15 at 9:43
  • I think that the issue is complicated and covers a number of points. But isn't the difference in pronunciation for vient/viennent given by the single versus the double n?
    – Lambie
    Jun 15 at 14:27

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