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Why half of the letters in a French word are never pronounced ?

Do you remember those first French courses you had ? Unlike many languages, the way to read French is not straightforward. You see the letters, you can clearly read them, but it sounds nothing like the way it should. And you accent has nothing to do with it.

 

Let’s try to understand why by solving this mystery, and how getting some French courses in France will help you.

 

So you started learning some French, and you start to realize the gap between the way it is written and the way it is pronounced. 

“Les maisons des beaux-fils et belles-filles auxquels nous sommes très liés sont dans les hameaux. »

 

Well, if you read all the letters, it would phonetically sound more or less like:

“Les maysons dez boks fil ett bellez filez, oaxkwels nows somez trayz liyez sonte da’nz lez ‘hameeahooks”

But for some reason, when it is read by French people it sounds like all the end letters are drop half the letters, especially the last ones. The plural is almost never pronounced, but not only. The word “et” (and), is just a sound “é”, and nothing more.

The plural of être “sont”, never get the letter “t” pronounced… ever.

And how come all those times the sound “o” is written with “au” or “eau”.

 

Couldn’t they have made much easier? Why is that?

 

To understand more of this mystery, we can make a little comparison with another language: Italian.

When French and Italian started to be put in there written form, a question rose among scholars that had the difficult task to transfer pure oral language to a combination of letters.

 

Two solutions were available: going according to the pronunciation. What you hear is what you write.

If you look at Italian and our example of the word “and”, it is pronounced “é”, and it is written the same way.

But French chose the other solution: going according to the etymology. In the case of the word “and”, the world “et” but pronounced “é” comes from the latin… “et”.

All those letters are marks of the past and history of the French language. 

 

It doesn’t mean that French never evolves. One example with the world château (castle). The “circonflexe” accent on the “â” is there to show the evolution of this word. In old French, this world used to be spelled with an “s” between the “a” and “t”, but this “s” was not pronounced. Over time, the letter “s” was dropped, but it was not forgotten and replaced by the accent on the “â”.

This little explanation may not solve your reading issues, but at least  you will know why.