People learning French often say that sentences sound like one long word. How do you know where one word ends and another begins?
The big reason for this is the linkings called “enchaînements” and “liaisons”. These are not only normal, but actually required in French. When a word begins with a vowel sound, if you haven’t done an “elision”, you will normally do a “liaison” or an “enchaînement”. This means that a word that starts with a vowel, such as “ami”, will actually start with a consonant sound.
Wait, what??? Yes: the final consonant sound of the first word will move over to fuse with the initial vowel sound of the word that follows. Depending on the word that precedes it, “ami” will sound like “nami”, “tami”, or “zami”. Here is how this happens.
A “liaison” is when the final (and normally silent, see “Silent Letters”) consonant of a word is pronounced together with the initial vowel of the following word. This happens in groups of words that are linked together by meaning, for example:
- un ami (un-na-mi)
- mes amis (mé-za-mi)
- petit ami (pe-ti-ta-mi)
As you can see, when someone uses the word “ami” in a sentence, you will not hear “ami” but either “nami”, “zami”, or “tami”. Wait, it gets better! 🙂
Unlike “liaisons”, which are sometimes optional or forbidden, “enchaînements” are always done in normal speech, throughout the sentence and even across groups of words. Unlike “liaisons”, they do not add an extra sound, but merely rearrange the sounds.
When a word starts with a vowel sound, that vowel sound is linked with the last consonant sound of the previous word, effectively creating a new syllable. The second word now begins with the last sound of the first word! Here are a few examples to illustrate this:
- cinq amis (sin-ka-mi)
- nouvel ami (nou-vè-la-mi)
- leur ami (leu-ra-mi)
- même ami (mè-ma-mi)
- elle a (è-la)
- elle arrive à quelle heure? (è-la-ri-va-kè-leur)
- avec elle (a-vè-kèl)
- quel âge as-tu? (kè-la–ja-tu)
- il habite à Paris (i-la-bi-ta-pa-ri)
Here, you have new combinations with the word “ami”: kami, lami, rami, and mami! 🙂
These are a little different from the other types of linkings, as they do not merge sounds together into a new syllable. All this is, is when you have two or more vowels in contact, you try to pronounce them without your voice “cutting” in between them. This helps you sound more natural. For example:
- Tu as (tu-a)
- Tu es (tu-è)
- J’ai eu un problème. (jé-u-un..)
- Tu as une minute? (tu-a-une…)
- Il va au cinéma. (il-va-o…)
Here are some links if you want to read more about this:
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