Many of my French language students find it difficult to pronounce words that contain the letter Y. While the letter Y is considered a vowel in the French alphabet, certain French words with ‘Y’ often use it as a consonant and put between two vowels and this is where confusion often reigns. Never fear though as I have a secret that I learned when I was a child from my French teacher that will help you with your pronunciation.
The French Letter ‘Y’ aka ‘l grec’ Secret
Ready for the secret tip?
The key to pronounce words with a vowel + Y is to see the Y as two letters in one.
At school my French teacher often drew the Y in such a way that the two arms of the Y each looked like the letter I. So Y equals two I’s. It’s a great reminder that the spelling we see differs from how it is said.
For my adult French learners (often English native speakers) the biggest challenge is pronunciation of the vowel + Y words. They can spell the word easily enough, while for French children the challenge is knowing how to spell the word based on how it is pronounced.
For example, in the word BRUYANT, meaning noisy, the Y acts as two I’s so we break the word down into two syllables: BRUI-IANT
Now the letters U and I don’t mix so in BRUYANT the U-I will be heard as two different sounds, but the A+I will combine to form a new sound.
Other vowels combine as well, so A+I makes AI and O+I makes OI, so when a Y comes after A or O the A and O are pronounced as AI or OI because the Y splits into double I.
French words with ‘Y’
Most French words with ‘Y’ will behave in this way although there are a few rare exceptions.
Let’s take a look at some more examples of the French words with Y with pronunciation help and add them to your vocabulary bank.
Une Abbaye / pronounced in 3 syllables /A-BBAI-IE / an abbey
Aboyer A-BOI-IER not a-bo-yer / to bark
Appuyer A-PPUI-IER / to press
Le balayage BA-LAI-IAGE / sweeping or highlighting
Balayer BA-LAI-IER / to sweep
Les boyaux BOI-IAUX / guts
Bruyant BRUI-IANT / noisy
Clairvoyant CLAIR-VOI-IANT / clear-sighted
Le crayon CRAI-ION / pencil
Effrayer E-FFRAI-IER / to scare
Un employé EM-PLOI-IÉ / an employee
Ennuyant EN-NUI-IANT / boring or dull
Essuyer E-SSUI-IER / to wipe
Essayage E-SSAI-IAGE / fitting
Incroyable IN-CROI-IABLE / unbelievable
Une layette LAI-IETTE / baby wear
La moyenne MOI-IENNE / average
Noyer NOI-IER / to drown
Payer PAI-IER / to pay
Un paysage PAI-I-SAGE / landscape
Un paysan PAI-I-SAN / farmer or peasant
Rayé RAI-IÉ / striped
Une rayure RAI-IURE / a stripe
Réessayer RÉ-E-SSAI-IER / to try again
Relayer RE-LAI-IER / to pass on
Renvoyer REN-VOI-IER / to send back
Tutoyer TU-TOI-IER / to call [sb] « tu »
Un tuyau TUI-IAU / hose pipe (or tip)
Vouvoyer VOU-VOI-IER / to call [sb] « vous »
Voyager VOI-IA-GER / to travel
To help with the pronunciation of these words, visit the FrenchSpeak YouTube channel to watch our Pronunciation playlists.
In this video I go through the pronunciation of these 30 tricky French words with Y in them which will assist you when you come across more tricky Y words.
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