French Language



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French (français, French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃sɛ]) is a Romance language spoken, around the world, by about 77 million people as a first language (mother tongue), by 50 million as a second language, and by about another 200 million people as an acquired foreign language, with significant speakers in 54 countries.  Most native speakers of the language live in France, where the language originated. The rest live essentially in Canada (particularly Quebec), Belgium, Switzerland, French-speaking Africa, Luxembourg, and Monaco. Most second-language speakers of French live in Francophonic Africa, arguably exceeding the number of native speakers.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the Francophone country with the largest population.


French is a descendant of the Latin language of the Roman Empire, as are national languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Romanian, and minority languages ranging from Catalan and Occitan to Neapolitan and many more. Its development was also influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders.


It is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form what is called, in French, La Francophonie, the community of French-speaking nations. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organizations. According to the European Union, 129 million (26% of the 497,198,740) people in 27 member states speak French, of which 65 million (12%) are native speakers and 69 million (14%) claim to speak it either as a second language or as a foreign language, which makes it the third most spoken second language in the Union, after English and German. In addition, prior to the mid 20th century, French served as the preeminent language of diplomacy among European and colonial powers as well as a lingua franca among the educated classes of Europe.



Geographic distribution


dark blue: mother tongue blue: official languagelight blue: second languagegreen quarters: francophone minorities


dark blue:

native language




official language



light blue:

second official language



green squares:

minority language




Legal status in France


According to the Constitution of France, French has been the official language since 1992 (although previous legal texts have made it official since 1539).  France mandates the use of French in official government publications, public education except in specific cases (though these dispositions are often ignored) and legal contracts; advertisements must bear a translation of foreign words.


In addition to French, there are also a variety of regional languages and dialects. France has signed the European Charter for Regional Languages, but has not ratified it since that would go against the 1958 Constitution.




French is one of the four official languages of Switzerland (along with German, Italian and Romansh) and is spoken in the part of Switzerland called Romandie. French is the native language of about 20% of the Swiss population.


Most of Swiss French is mutually compatible with the standard French spoken in France, but it is often used with small differences, such as those involving some numbers.




In Belgium, French is the official language of Wallonia (excluding the East Cantons, which are German-speaking) and one of the two official languages —along with Dutch— of the Brussels-Capital Region where it is spoken by the majority of the population, though often not as their primary language.  French and German are not official languages nor recognized minority languages in the Flemish Region, although along borders with the Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions, there are a dozen municipalities with language facilities for French speakers. A mirror situation exists for the Walloon Region with respect to the Dutch and German languages. In total, native French speakers make up about 40% of the country's population, while the remaining 60% speak Dutch as a first language. Of the latter, 59% claim to speak French as a second language, meaning that about three quarters of the Belgian population can speak French.


brussels signs

Bilingual signs in Brussels.


Monaco and Andorra


Although Monégasque is the national language of the Principality of Monaco, French is the only official language, and French nationals make up some 47% of the population.


Catalan is the only official language of Andorra; however, French is commonly used because of the proximity to France. French nationals make up 7% of the population.




knowledge french

Knowledge of French in the European Union and candidate countries


French is also an official language, along with Italian, in the province of Aosta Valley, Italy. In addition, a number of Franco-Provençal dialects are spoken in the province, although they do not have official recognition.




French is one of three official languages of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, alongside German and Luxembourgish, the natively spoken language of Luxembourg. Luxembourg's education system is trilingual: the first years of primary school are in Luxembourgish, before changing to German; while in secondary school, the language of instruction changes to French.


The United Kingdom and the Channel Islands


French is a large minority language and immigrant language in the UK, with over 300,000 French-born people in the UK. It is also the most popular foreign language. French is understood by 23% of the UK population.


A large portion of words of the English language (originating in Great Britain) are of French root or origin. This is partly due to the Norman Invasion, which led to French becoming the language of administration for a period in history and the use of French by sections of the aristocracy and upper classes (while the peasants and lower classes spoke an Anglo-Saxon language).


French is an official language in Jersey and Guernsey, the two bailiwicks collectively referred to as the Channel Islands, although they are separate entities. Both use French to some degree, mostly in an administrative or ceremonial capacity. Jersey Legal French is the standardized variety used in Jersey. However, Norman is the historical vernacular langue d'Oïl of the islands.






French is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. French is the sole official language in the province of Quebec, being the mother tongue for some 6 million people. New Brunswick, where about a third of the population is Francophone, is the only officially bilingual province. Portions of Eastern Ontario, Northeastern Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba have sizeable French minorities, but its prescription as an official language in those jurisdictions and the level of Francophone services varies.




French is an official language of Haiti, although it is mostly spoken by the upper class, while Haitian Creole (a French-based creole language) is more widely spoken as a mother tongue.


bilingual stop sign

Bilingual (English/French) stop sign on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, an example of bilingualism at the federal level in Canada.


French overseas territories


French is also the official language in France's overseas territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthélemy, St. Martin and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.


The United States


french in the united states

French language spread in the United States. Counties marked in yellow are those where 6–12% of the population speaks French at home; brown, 12–18%; red, over 18%. French-based creole languages are not included.


Although it has no official recognition on a federal level, French is the third most-spoken language in the United States, after English and Spanish, and the second most-spoken in the states of Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Louisiana is home to many distinct dialects, of which Cajun French has the largest number of speakers. According to the 2000 US Census, there are over 194,000 people in Louisiana who speak French at home, the most of any state if Creole French is excluded.


yoff tonghor

Supermarket sign in French in Dakar, Senegal.




A majority of the world's French-speaking population lives in Africa. According to the 2007 report by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 115 million African people spread across 31 Francophone African countries can speak French as either a first or a second language.


French is mostly a second language in Africa, but it has become a first language in some areas, such as the region of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and in Libreville, Gabon.  It is not possible to speak of a single form of African French, but rather of diverse forms of African French which have developed because of the contact with many indigenous African languages.


In the territories of the Indian Ocean, the French language is often spoken alongside French-derived creole languages, the major exception being Madagascar. There, a Malayo-Polynesian language (Malagasy) is spoken alongside French.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where the French language is most likely to expand, because of the expansion of education and rapid demographic growth.  It is also where the language has evolved the most in recent years.  Some vernacular forms of French in Africa can be difficult to understand for French speakers from other countries, but written forms of the language are very closely related to those of the rest of the French-speaking world.


French is an official language in many African countries, most of them former French or Belgian colonies:


·        Benin

·        Burkina Faso

·        Burundi

·        Cameroon

·        Central African Republic

·        Chad

·        Comoros

·        Congo (Brazzaville)

·        Côte d'Ivoire

·        Democratic Republic of the Congo

·        Djibouti

·        Equatorial Guinea (former colony of Spain)

·        Gabon

·        Guinea

·        Madagascar

·        Mali

·        Niger

·        Rwanda

·        Senegal

·        Seychelles

·        Togo


francophone africa

     Countries usually considered as Francophone Africa. These countries had a population of 321 million in 2007.  Their population is projected to reach 733 million in 2050.       Countries sometimes considered as Francophone Africa


In addition, French is an administrative language and commonly used, though not on an official basis, in Mauritius and in the Maghreb states:

·        Algeria

·        Mauritania

·        Morocco

·        Tunisia


In Algeria, various reforms have been implemented in recent decades to improve the status of Arabic in relation to French, especially in education.


While the predominant European language in Egypt is English, French is learned by some elements of the Egyptian upper and upper-middle classes; for this reason, a typical educated Egyptian will learn French in addition to English at some point in his or her education. Egypt participates in La Francophonie.


French is also the official language of Mayotte and Réunion, two overseas territories of France located in the Indian Ocean, as well as an administrative and educational language in Mauritius, along with English.






lebanese pound reverse

A Lebanese "mille livres" (thousand-pound) bank note


French is the official language in Lebanon, along with Arabic. It is considered an official language by the Lebanese people and is used on bank notes (along with Arabic) and on official buildings. French is widely used by the Lebanese, especially for administrative purposes, and is taught in many schools as a primary language along with Arabic.




Like Lebanon, French was official in Syria until 1943. But in contrast to Lebanon, the language is not official, but still spoken by educated groups, both elite and middle-class.


Southeast Asia


French is an administrative language in Laos and Cambodia, although its influence has waned in recent years.  In colonial Vietnam, the elites spoke French, and many who worked for the French spoke a French creole known as "Tây Bồi" (now extinct). The language was also spoken by the elite in the leased territory Guangzhouwan in southern China.


In Burma, French is gaining popularity amongst university students and the tourism sector, as the country slowly opens up. French is not offered at the basic education level, but the University of Foreign Languages in Yangon offers a B.A. in French, and Alliance Française has active centers in Rangoon and Mandalay. The Francophone community is estimated to number from 25,000 to more than 50,000.




French has de-jure official status in the Indian Union Territory of Pondicherry, along with the regional languages Tamil and Telugu. Some students of Tamil Nadu opt for French as their second or third language (usually behind English and Tamil).


French is commonly taught as a third language in secondary schools in most cities of Maharashtra, including Mumbai, as part of the preparation for secondary school (X-SSC) and higher secondary school (XII-HSC) certificate examinations. Certain high-profile schools affiliated with the CBSE in the NCR offer French as an option as early as grade 4. In grade 9, students are asked to drop either French or Hindi, which is their native language.




French is a second official language of the Pacific Island nations of Vanuatu and Wallis & Futuna. In France's territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia, 90% of speakers have it as either their native or secondary language.





·        Acadian French

·        African French

·        Aostan French

·        Belgian French

·        Cajun French

·        Cambodian French

·        Canadian French

·        French-based creole languages

·        Guyana French

·        Indian French

·        Jersey Legal French

·        Lao French

·        Levantine French (most commonly referred to as Lebanese French)

·        Louisiana Creole French

·        Maghreb French

·        Meridional French

·        Metropolitan French

·        New Caledonian French

·        Newfoundland French

·        Oceanic French

·        Quebec French

·        South East Asian French

·        Swiss French

·        Vietnamese French

·        West Indian French





Although there are many French regional accents, foreign learners normally study only one version of the language, which has no commonly used special name.

·        There are 16 vowels in French, not all of which are used in every dialect: /a/, /ɑ/, /e/, /ɛ/, /ə/, /i/, /o/, /ɔ/, /y/, /u/, /œ/, /ø/, plus the nasalized vowels /ɑ̃/, /ɛ̃/, /ɔ̃/ and /œ̃/. In France, the vowels /ɑ/ and /œ̃/ are tending to be replaced by /a/ and /ɛ̃/ in many people's speech.

·        Voiced stops (i.e. /b d ɡ/) are typically produced fully voiced throughout.

·        Voiceless stops (i.e. /p t k/) are unaspirated.

·        Nasals: The velar nasal /ŋ/ occurs only in final position in borrowed (usually English) words: parking, camping, and swing. The palatal nasal /ɲ/ can occur in word initial position (e.g. gnon), but it is most frequently found in intervocalic, onset position or word-finally (e.g. montagne).

·        Fricatives: French has three pairs of homorganic fricatives distinguished by voicing, i.e. labiodental /f/–/v/, dental /s/–/z/, and palato-alveolar /ʃ/–/ʒ/. Notice that /s/–/z/ are dental, like the plosives /t/–/d/, and the nasal /n/.

·        French has one rhotic whose pronunciation varies considerably among speakers and phonetic contexts. In general it is described as a voiced uvular fricative as in [ʁu] roue, "wheel”. Vowels are often lengthened before this segment. It can be reduced to an approximant, particularly in final position (e.g. fort) or reduced to zero in some word-final positions. For other speakers, a uvular trill is also common, and an apical trill [r] occurs in some dialects.

·        Lateral and central approximants: The lateral approximant /l/ is unvelarized in both onset (lire) and coda position (il). In the onset, the central approximants [w], [ɥ], and [j] each correspond to a high vowel, /u/, /y/, and /i/ respectively. There are a few minimal pairs where the approximant and corresponding vowel contrast, but there are also many cases where they are in free variation. Contrasts between /j/ and /i/ occur in final position as in /pɛj/ paye, "pay", vs. /pɛi/ pays, "country".


French pronunciation follows strict rules based on spelling, but French spelling is often based more on history than phonology. The rules for pronunciation vary between dialects, but the standard rules are:

·        Final consonants: Final single consonants, in particular s, x, z, t, d, n and m, are normally silent. (The final letters c, r, f and l, however, are normally pronounced.)

o   When the following word begins with a vowel, however, a silent consonant may once again be pronounced, to provide a liaison or "link" between the two words. Some liaisons are mandatory, for example the s in les amants or vous avez; some are optional, depending on dialect and register, for example the first s in deux cents Euros or Euros irlandais; and some are forbidden, for example the s in beaucoup d'hommes aiment. The t of et is never pronounced and the silent final consonant of a noun is only pronounced in the plural and in set phrases like pied-à-terre.

o   Doubling a final n and adding a silent e at the end of a word (e.g. chienchienne) makes it clearly pronounced. Doubling a final l and adding a silent e (e.g. gentilgentille) adds a [j] sound if the l is preceded by the letter i.

·        Elision or vowel dropping: Some monosyllabic function words ending in a or e, such as je and que, drop their final vowel when placed before a word that begins with a vowel sound (thus avoiding a hiatus). The missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe. (e.g. je ai is instead pronounced and spelled → j'ai). This gives, for example, the same pronunciation for l'homme qu'il a vu ("the man whom he saw") and l'homme qui l'a vu ("the man who saw him"). However, for Belgian French the sentences are pronounced differently; in the first sentence the syllable break is as "qu'il-a", while the second breaks as "qui-l'a". It can also be noted that, in Quebec French, the second example (l'homme qui l'a vu) is more emphasized on l'a vu.





·        Nasal: n and m. When n or m follows a vowel or diphthong, the n or m becomes silent and causes the preceding vowel to become nasalized (i.e. pronounced with the soft palate extended downward so as to allow part of the air to leave through the nostrils). Exceptions are when the n or m is doubled, or immediately followed by a vowel. The prefixes en- and em- are always nasalized. The rules are more complex than this but may vary between dialects.

·        Digraphs: French uses not only diacritics to specify its large range of vowel sounds and diphthongs, but also specific combinations of vowels, sometimes with following consonants, to show which sound is intended.

·        Gemination: Within words, double consonants are generally not pronounced as geminates in modern French (but geminates can be heard in the cinema or TV news from as recently as the 1970s, and in very refined elocution they may still occur). For example, illusion is pronounced [ilyzjɔ̃] and not [ilːyzjɔ̃]. But gemination does occur between words. For example, une info ("a news item" or "a piece of information") is pronounced [ynɛ̃fo], whereas une nympho ("a nymphomaniac") is pronounced [ynːɛ̃fo].

·        Accents are used sometimes for pronunciation, sometimes to distinguish similar words, and sometimes for etymology alone.

o   Accents that affect pronunciation

§  The acute accent (l'accent aigu), é (e.g. école—school), means that the vowel is pronounced /e/ instead of the default /ə/.

§  The grave accent (l'accent grave), è (e.g. élève—pupil) means that the vowel is pronounced /ɛ/ instead of the default /ə/.

§  The circumflex (l'accent circonflexe) ê (e.g. forêt—forest) shows that an e is pronounced /ɛ/ and that an ô is pronounced /o/. In standard French, it also signifies a pronunciation of /ɑ/ for the letter â, but this differentiation is disappearing. In the late 19th century, the circumflex was used in place of s after a vowel, where that letter s was not to be pronounced. Thus, forest became forêt and hospital became hôpital.

§  The diaeresis (le tréma) (e.g. naïf—foolish, Noël—Christmas) as in English, specifies that this vowel is pronounced separately from the preceding one, not combined, and is not a schwa.

§  The cedilla (la cédille) ç (e.g. garçon—boy) means that the letter ç is pronounced /s/ in front of the hard vowels a, o and u (c is otherwise /k/ before a hard vowel). C is always pronounced /s/ in front of the soft vowels e, i, and y, thus ç is never found in front of soft vowels.

o   Accents with no pronunciation effect

§  The circumflex does not affect the pronunciation of the letters i or u, and in most dialects, a as well. It usually indicates that an s came after it long ago, as in île (island, compare with English isle).

§  All other accents are used only to distinguish similar words, as in the case of distinguishing the adverbs and ("there", "where") from the article la ("the" fem. sing.) and the conjunction ou ("or") respectively.



Writing system


French is written with the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, as well as five diacritics (the circumflex accent, acute accent, grave accent, diaeresis, and cedilla) and the two ligatures (œ) and (æ).


French spelling, like English spelling, tends to preserve obsolete pronunciation rules. This is mainly due to extreme phonetic changes since the Old French period, without a corresponding change in spelling. Moreover, some conscious changes were made to restore Latin orthography:

BULLETS Old French doit > French doigt "finger" (Latin digitus)

Old French pie > French pied "foot" (Latin pes (stem: ped-))


As a result, it is difficult to predict the spelling based on the sound alone. Final consonants are generally silent, except when the following word begins with a vowel. For example, all of these words end in a vowel sound: pied, aller, les, finit, beaux. The same words followed by a vowel, however, may sound the consonants, as they do in these examples: beaux-arts, les amis, pied-à-terre.


On the other hand, a given spelling will usually lead to a predictable sound, and the Académie française works hard to enforce and update this correspondence. In particular, a given vowel combination or diacritic predictably leads to one phoneme.


The diacritics have phonetic, semantic, and etymological significance.

·        Acute accent (é): Over an e, indicates the sound of a short ai in English, with no diphthong. An é in modern French is often used where a combination of e and a consonant, usually s, would have been used formerly: écouter < escouter. This type of accent mark is called accent aigu in French.

·        Grave accent (à, è, ù): Over a or u, used only to distinguish homophones: à ("to") vs. a ("has"), ou ("or") vs. ("where"). Over an e, indicates the sound /ɛ/.

·        Circumflex (â, ê, î, ô, û): Over an a, e or o, indicates the sound /ɑ/, /ɛ/ or /o/, respectively (the distinction a /a/ vs. â /ɑ/ tends to disappear in many dialects). Most often indicates the historical deletion of an adjacent letter (usually an s or a vowel): château < castel, fête < feste, sûr < seur, dîner < disner. It has also come to be used to distinguish homophones: du ("of the") vs. (past participle of devoir "to have to do something (pertaining to an act)"; note that is in fact written thus because of a dropped e: deu).  Since the 1990 orthographic rectifications, the circumflex on most i and u may be dropped as there is no change in pronunciation.

·        Diaeresis or tréma (ë, ï, ü, ÿ): Indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced separately from the preceding one: naïve, Noël. A diaeresis on y only occurs in some proper names and in modern editions of old French texts. Some proper names in which ÿ appears include Aÿ (commune in canton de la Marne formerly Aÿ-Champagne), Rue des Cloÿs (alley in the 18th arrondissement of Paris), Croÿ (family name and hotel on the Boulevard Raspail, Paris), Château du Feÿ (near Joigny), Ghÿs (name of Flemish origin spelt Ghijs where ij in handwriting looked like ÿ to French clerks), l'Haÿ-les-Roses (commune between Paris and Orly airport), Pierre Louÿs (author), Moÿ (place in commune de l'Aisne and family name), and Le Blanc de Nicolaÿ (an insurance company in eastern France). The diaeresis on u appears only in the biblical proper names Archélaüs, Capharnaüm, Emmaüs, Ésaü and Saül. Nevertheless, since the 1990 orthographic rectifications, the diaeresis in words containing guë (such as aiguë or ciguë) may be moved onto the u: aigüe, cigüe.

·        Umlaut: Words coming from German retain the old Umlaut (ä, ö and ü) if applicable but use French pronunciation, such as Kärcher (trade mark of a pressure washer).

·        Cedilla (ç): Indicates that an etymological c is pronounced /s/ when it would otherwise be pronounced /k/. Thus je lance "I throw" (with c = [s] before e), je lançais "I was throwing" (c would be pronounced [k] before a without the cedilla). The c cedilla (ç) softens the hard /k/ sound to /s/ before the vowels a, o or u, for example ça /sa/. C cedilla is never used before the vowels e or i since these two vowels always produce a soft /s/ sound (ce, ci).


There are two ligatures, which have various origins:

·        The ligature œ is a mandatory contraction of oe in certain words. Some of these are native French words, with the pronunciation /œ/ or /ø/, e.g. sœur "sister" /sœʁ/, œuvre "work (of art)" /œvʁ/. Note that it usually appears in the combination œu; œil is an exception. Many of these words were originally written with the digraph eu; the o in the ligature represents a sometimes artificial attempt to imitate the Latin spelling: Latin bovem > Old French buef/beuf > Modern French bœuf. Œ is also used in words of Greek origin, as the Latin rendering of the Greek diphthong οι, e.g. cœlacanthe "coelacanth". These words used to be pronounced with the vowel /e/, but in recent years a spelling pronunciation with /ø/ has taken hold, e.g. œsophage /ezɔfaʒ/ or /øzɔfaʒ/. The pronunciation with /e/ is often seen to be more correct. The ligature œ is not used in some occurrences of the letter combination oe, for example, when o is part of a prefix (coexister).

·        The ligature æ is rare and appears in some words of Latin and Greek origin like ægosome, ægyrine, æschne, cæcum, nævus or uræus.  The vowel quality is identical to é /e/.


French writing, as with any language, is affected by the spoken language. In Old French, the plural for animal was animals. Common speakers pronounced a u before a word ending in l as the plural. This resulted in animauls. As the French language evolved, this vanished and the form animaux (aux pronounced /o/) was admitted. The same is true for cheval pluralized as chevaux and many others. In addition, castel pl. castels became château pl. châteaux.


Some proposals exist to simplify the existing writing system, but they still fail to gather interest.





French grammar shares several notable features with most other Romance languages, including:

·        the loss of Latin's declensions

·        only two grammatical genders

·        the development of grammatical articles from Latin demonstratives

·        new tenses formed from auxiliaries


French word order is Subject Verb Object, except when the object is a pronoun, in which case the word order is Subject Object Verb. Some rare archaisms allow for different word orders.





The majorities of French words derives from Vulgar Latin or were constructed from Latin or Greek roots. There are often pairs of words, one form being "popular" (noun) and the other one "savant" (adjective), both originating from Latin. Example:

·        brother: frère / fraternel < from Latin frater

·        finger: doigt / digital < from Latin digitum

·        faith: foi / fidèle < from Latin fidem

·        cold: froid / frigide < from Latin frigidum

·        eye: œil / oculaire < from Latin oculum


In some examples there is a common word from Vulgar Latin and a more savant word borrowed directly from Medieval Latin or even Ancient Greek.

·        Cheval—Concours équestreHippodrome


The French words which have developed from Latin are usually less recognizable than Italian words of Latin origin because as French evolved from Vulgar Latin, the unstressed final syllable of many words was dropped or elided into the following word.


It is estimated that 12% (4,200) of common French words found in a typical dictionary such as the Petit Larousse or Micro-Robert Plus (35,000 words) are of foreign origin (where Greek and Latin savant words are not seen as foreign). About 25% (1,054) of these foreign words come from English and are fairly recent borrowings. The others are some 707 words from Italian, 550 from ancient Germanic languages, 481 from ancient Gallo-Romance languages, 215 from Arabic, 164 from German, 160 from Celtic languages, 159 from Spanish, 153 from Dutch, 112 from Persian and Sanskrit, 101 from Native American languages, 89 from other Asian languages, 56 from other Afro-Asiatic languages, 55 from Slavic languages and Baltic languages, 10 from Basque and 144 — about three percent — from other languages.


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The French counting system is partially vigesimal: twenty (vingt) is used as a base number in the names of numbers from 60 to 99. The French word for eighty, for example, is quatre-vingts, which literally means "four twenties", and soixante-quinze (literally "sixty-fifteen") means 75. This reform arose after the French Revolution to unify the different counting systems (mostly vigesimal near the coast, because of Celtic (via Breton) and Viking influences). This system is comparable to the archaic English use of score, as in "fourscore and seven" (87), or "threescore and ten" (70).


Belgian French and Swiss French are different in this respect. In Belgium and Switzerland 70 and 90 are septante and nonante. In Switzerland, depending on the local dialect, 80 can be quatre-vingts (Geneva, Neuchâtel, Jura) or huitante (Vaud, Valais, Fribourg). Octante had been used in Switzerland in the past, but is now considered archaic.  In Belgium, however, quatre-vingts is universally used.


It should also be noted that French uses a period (also called a full stop) or a space to separate thousands where English uses a comma or (more recently) a space. The comma is used in French numbers as a decimal point: 2,5 = deux virgule cinq.


Cardinal numbers in French from 1 to 20 are as follows:

·        One: un /œ̃/

·        Two: deux /dø/

·        Three: trois /tʁwa/

·        Four: quatre /katʁ/

·        Five: cinq /sɛ̃k/

·        Six: six /sis/

·        Seven: sept /sɛt/

·        Eight: huit /ʔɥɪt/

·        Nine: neuf /nœf/

·        Ten: dix /dis/

·        Eleven: onze /ɔ̃z/

·        Twelve: douze /duz/

·        Thirteen: treize /tʁɛz/

·        Fourteen: quatorze /katɔʁz/

·        Fifteen: quinze /kɛ̃z/

·        Sixteen: seize /sɛz/

·        Seventeen: dix-sept /dis.sɛt/

·        Eighteen: dix-huit /di.z‿ɥit/

·        Nineteen: dix-neuf /diz.nœf/

·        Twenty: vingt /vɛ̃/




The "Canadian" audio samples here are not necessarily from speakers of Quebec French, which has distinct regional pronunciations of certain words.



















Oui (si when countering an assertion or a question expressed in the negative)








Bonjour ! (formal) or Salut ! (informal) or "Âllo" (Canada or when answering on the telephone)



Good Evening!

Bonsoir !



Good Night!

Bonne nuit !


/bɔn nɥi/


Au revoir !


/ɔʁ vwa/

Have a nice day!

Bonne journée !

/bɔn ʒuʀˈne/

/bɔn ʒuʁne/


S'il vous plaît (formal) or S'il te plaît (informal)


/sil vu plɛ/

Thank You




You are welcome

De rien ("it is nothing") or Je vous en prie (formal) or Je t'en prie (informal)


/də ʁiɛ̃/

I am sorry

Pardon or Je suis désolé (if male) / Je suis désolée (if female) or Excuse-moi (informal) / Excusez-moi (formal)

/paʁdɔ̃/ / /dezɔle/

/paʁdɔ̃/ / /dezɔle/


Qui ?




Quoi ? (←informal; used as "What?" in English)) or Comment ? (←formal; used the same as "Pardon Me?" in English)




Quand ?




Où ?




Pourquoi ?



What is your name?

Comment vous appelez-vous ? (formal) or Comment t'appelles-tu ? (informal)


/kɔmɑ̃ vuzap le vu/


Parce que / "À cause de" — literally "because of" or "due to"


/paʁs kǝ/

For (when used as “because”)









Comment ?



How much?

Combien ?



I do not understand.

Je ne comprends pas

/ʒə nə

/ʒə nə

Yes, I understand.

Oui, je comprends. Except when responding to a negatively posed question, in which case Si is used preferentially over Oui

/wi ʒə kɔ̃pʀɑ̃/

/wi, ʒə kɔ̃ pʁɑ̃/


Au secours ! (à l'aide !)

/o səˈkuʀ/

/o səku:ʁ/

Can you help me please?

Pouvez-vous m'aider s'il vous plaît ? / Pourriez-vous m'aider s'il vous plaît ? (formal) or Peux-tu m'aider s'il te plaît ? / Pourrais-tu m'aider s'il te plaît (informal)



Where are the toilets?

Où sont les toilettes ?

/u sɔ̃ le twalɛt/

/u sɔ̃ le twa.lɛt/

Do you speak English?

Parlez-vous anglais ?

/paʀle vu ɑ̃ɡlɛ/

/paʁ le vu ɑ̃ɡ lɛ/

I do not speak French.

Je ne parle pas français.

/ʒə nə paʀlə pɑ fʀɑ̃sɛ/

/ʒə nə paʁl pa fʁɑ̃sɛ/

I do not know.

Je ne sais pas.


/ʒə (nə) se pa/

I know.

Je sais.


/ʒə sɛ/

I am thirsty.

J'ai soif. (literally, "I have thirst")


/ʒe swaf/

I am hungry.

J'ai faim. (literally, "I have hunger")


/ʒe fɛ̃/

How are you? / How are things going? / How is everything?

Comment allez-vous? (formal) or Ça va? / Comment ça va ? (informal)



I am (very) well / Things are going (very) well // Everything is (very) well

Je vais (très) bien (formal) or Ça va (très) bien. / Tout va (très) bien (informal)



I am (very) bad / Things are (very) bad / Everything is (very) bad

Je vais (très) mal (formal) or Ça va (très) mal / Tout va (très) mal (informal)



I am all right/so-so / Everything is all right/so-so

Assez bien or Ça va comme ci, comme ça or simply Ça va.. (Sometimes said: « Couci, couça. », informal : "bof") i. e. « Comme ci, comme ça. »)



I am fine.

Je vais bien.


/ʒə vɛ bjɛ̃/


Source of this Article


French Language


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