French Corrective Phonetics Guide

The Vowels /o/ and /ɔ/ (e.g.: beau and botte)

/o/ and /ɔ/

The vowels /o/ and /ɔ/ are characterized by the following features:

/o/ is mid-closed, back, rounded and oral, e.g.: dos [do] , eau /o/ , auto [oto] , faux [fo] .

/ɔ/ is mid-open, back, rounded and oral, e.g.: bol [bɔl] , mort [mɔʁ] , molle [mɔl] , bonne [bɔn] .

As you can see, these vowels are identical, except that the tongue is a little higher for /o/ than it is for /ɔ/.

Articulation of /o/ and /ɔ/

Like all French vowels, /o/ and /ɔ/ are short and tense. Since they are both rounded vowels, the lips must be rounded AND advanced during articulation.

When articulating, avoid adding a /w/ at the end. While English does have similar vowels, they are not the same. Compare for example the following word pairs.

Word pair French English
"beau/bow" [bo] [bow]
"seau/so" [so] [sow]
"tôt/tow" [to] [tow]

As these examples suggest, it is important to ensure that you do not produce a diphthong when articulating these French vowels. Keeping the vowel short and tense should help ensure a correct pronunciation.

Note that avoiding English [ow] is particularly challenging in open stressed syllables.

Distribution

The vowels /o/ and /ɔ/ tend to follow the Loi de position, i.e.: /o/ is usually found in open syllables (fardeau = [faʁdo]) and /ɔ/ is only found in closed syllables (bol = [bɔl]). However, there are exceptions. These exceptions usually involve the presence of /o/ in closed syllables. For the most part, spelling conventions will help (see below).

Spelling of /o/

The vowel /o/ is represented by the letter(s) "o" or "au" in certain contexts. Namely:

a) words written with "ô", e.g.: bientôt, [bjɛ̃to].

b) stressed "o" followed by a silent consonant, e.g.: dos [do].

c) "o" followed by pronounced /z/ or /m/, e.g.: rose [ʁoz], atome [atom]

d) "au" or "eau", e.g.: fardeau [faʁdo]

 

Spelling of /ɔ/

The main context for the vowel /ɔ/ is the letter "o" followed by a pronounced consonant other than "z/m", e.g.: botte [bɔt], problème [pʁɔblɛm]. Note that this is the case in both stressed and unstressed syllables. We see then that the Loi de position is frequently violated in unaccented syllables. 

 

Summary of spellings for /o/ and /ɔ/
 Spelling /o/ /ɔ/ /õ/
ô tôt [to]    
au auberge [obɛʁʒ], auto [oto], fardeau [faʁdo]    
o +z/m+e rose [ʁoz], chose [ʃoz], poser [poze], atome [atom]    
o + other non-nasal letter   problème [pʁɔblɛm], possible [pɔsibl], procès [prɔsɛ], botte [bɔt]  
o + n/m + consonant; o + n/m at end of word     fond [fõ], bon [bõ]

 

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  • The name Paul is pronounced [pɔl] , in spite of being written with "au"
  • The word rhum is pronounced [ʁɔm]
  • The singular un os is pronounded [œ̃nɔs], while the plural des os is pronounced [dezo] (in keeping with the Loi de position).
  • The word oignon is pronounced [ɔɲõ] (even though "oi" is usually pronounced [wa])
  • The word alchool is pronounced [alkɔl] .
 
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