Introduction to the Sounds of French

In the following table you will find the sounds of sung French, as they are represented in International Phonetic Alphabet and their ASCII Equivalents, along with sample words. While it is not uncommon to hear non-classical singers use Parisian and other French dialects in their singing, slightly Italianized French is still considered the standard for opera and artsong. Especially when notating diphthongs, not all transcriptions use identical IPA; use whatever scheme is used in your diction classes if you are in a diction course, or use whatever system makes the most sense to you if you have completed your studies.

IPA Symbol ASCII Equivalent Example Word
Pure Vowels
i /i/ plaisir
e /e/


ɛ /E/ belle
a /a/ jasmin
ɑ /A/ ple
ɔ /O/ Fauré
o /o/ beau
u /u/ l'amour
Mixed Vowels
y /y/ du
ø /Q/ bleu
ə /@/ je (note 1)
œ /q/ coeur
Nasal Vowels
ɑ̃ /A~/ enfant
ɛ̃ /E~/ vin
ɔ̃ /O~/ bon
œ̃ /q~/ humble
j /j/ bien
w /w/ oui
ɥ   luire
b /b/ bataille
d /d/ donc
f /f/ boeuf
g /g/ garde
k /k/ parc
l /l/


m /m/ marron
n /n/ nonne
ɲ /n;/ mignonne
p /p/ prier
r /r/ raison (note 2)
s /s/ son
ʃ /S/ chef
t /t/ tu
v /v/ valoir
z /z/ azure
ʒ /Z/ neige


Note 1: The French schwa is higher in position and more rounded than even the German schwa, and is considerably different from the "lazy" American neutral vowel.

Note 2: In classical music, the French "r" is usually flipped or rolled, as in Italian. In spoken French and in popular music, the uvular or "Parisian" /r/ is common.

Note 3: French is actually fairly standard in its pronunciation, especially if you familiarize yourself with French spelling. This, and practicing to achieve believable French vowels, will take you a long way.

Note 3: For non-native singers it is challenging to know when to use elision and liaison; there are many guidelines, some rules, and in some cases it remains artists' choice. Studying conversational French, and studying existing song transcriptions will help you to gain confidence with this aspect of French singing.