French Corrective Phonetics Guide

The Vowel /y/

In this section: Description, Listen, Exercises


The Vowel /y/

The French vowel /y/ has the following features: high, front, rounded and oral. Examples of words containing /u/ are: tu [ty] , rue [ʁy] , attendu [atãdy] , difficulté [difikylte] . The vowel /y/ is not found in English, which doesn't have front rounded vowels. Special care must therefore be taken to articulate this vowel correctly (though it is by no means difficult).


Like all French vowels, the vowel /y/ is short and tense. This vowel shares features with both /i/ and /u/. Like /i/, it is a high, front vowel; like /u/, it is a high rounded vowel. In a way, /y/ is like pronouncing /i/ and /u/ simultaneously!

The best way to correctly articulate /y/ is to start with /i/ and then add the appropriate lip rounding. Try pronouncing /i/ four times and then on the fifth, continue thinking about /i/, while rounding and advancing your lips:

/i/, /i/, /i/, /i/ + rounding = /y/

There is a tendency among English speakers to substitute /u/ for /y/. This is not acceptable, though, since a great many French words are distinguished by the difference between these two vowels, e.g.:

Word pair /y/ /u/
"du/doux" [dy] [du]
"nu/nous" [ny] [nu]
"su/sous" [sy] [su]
"tu/tout" [ty] [tu]

Pronounce these pairs of words, making sure the vowel is different for each member of the pair.


The vowel /y/ is represented by the letter "u" (or "û") in certain contexts. Namely:

a) at the end of a word, e.g.: lu [ly]

b) before a non-nasal consonant, e.g.: lutter [lyte]

c) before a nasal consonant that precedes another vowel (pronounced or not), e.g.: lune [lyn]

Note that when "u" is followed by a pronounced vowel, it represents the semi-vowel /ɥ/ and NOT /y/, e.g.: suis = [sɥi] and NOT [syi].

Note also that the past participle of avoir, eu, is in fact pronounced /y/.

  • Be sure to distinguish /y/ from /u/

In this section: Description, Listen, Exercises

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