Speaking fluent French requires years of practice and a sound knowledge of ''enchaînement'' which refers to the ability to link certain words in a sentence together when talking. This articles will explain the guidelines to follow in order to link successfully link words in speaking French.
Linking Sounds in French
A key element in speaking French fluently is the ability to link sounds. A lot of non-native speakers speak adequate French but their inability to link their sounds lessens the quality of their speech.
Linking sounds means carrying the last sound of a word to the word that follows in order to link them together. This can only be done when a consonant precedes a vowel in two different words such as in:
Les (“the") ends with the consonant “s" while amis begins with the vowel “a". Linking the two words is thus necessary.
Let’s look at another sentence:
Les amis de mon frère.
My brother’s friends.
In this sentence only two words can be linked (les and amis). In les amis, a [z] sound should link les with amis. In other words, it should be voiced:
“Lezamis" de mon frère.
The next section will explain the rules to follow when it comes to linking words together as well as which sounds should be used to do so. This is called enchaînement in French.
The Linking Sounds
You might have noticed that the linking sound between les and amis is a [z] sound and not a [s] sound. In this section I will explain what sounds should be used phonetically to link your words together.
Words ending with ''s'' or ''x'' are pronounced [z] when linking:
Les [z] automobiles
Dix [z] amis
Words ending with [d] are pronounced [t] when linking.
Un grand [t] homme
A great man
Words ending with [f] are pronounced [v] when linking.
Du vif [v] argent
Words ending with [g] are pronounced [g] when linking. There are some exceptions to this rule in some specific expressions which won’t be covered here.
Un long [g] hiver
A long winter
When to Link Sounds
There are thankfully some rules that determines whether you should link your sounds or not.
This section will identify the occurrences when you should always link words together.
#1: Determiner and noun
Les [z] amis
#2 : Adjective and noun
Les bons [z] amis
The good friends
#3 : Pronoun and verb
Nous [z] aimons. Je vous [z] aime.
We love. I love you.
#4: Preposition and the word that follows
Dès [z] aujourd’hui
As of today.
#5: Adverb and the word that follows
Ils sont plus [z] aimables
They are friendlier.
#6: In most locutions
Petit [t] à petit
Little by little
#7: With a verb and noun or attributive adjective
Ils sont [t] appréciés
They are appreciated
When Not to Link Sounds
You should never link sounds in the following occurrences.
#1: Following a punctuation mark.
Voici des étrangers /, un allemand.
Here are some foreigners, a German.
There shouldn’t be a voiced link between étrangers and allemand.
#2: In front of a numeral adjective like un, onze, onzième, huit, huitième (one, eleven, eleventh, eight, eighth).
Vous avez / huit ans.
You are eight years old.
There should be no link between avez and huit.
#3: In front of foreign words starting with the letter “y".
There should be no linking sound between les and yakuzas.
#4: Following a word ending with a mute consonant.
Le chat / et le seau.
The cat and the bucket
There should be no link between chat and et le seau because chat ends with a mute consonant (“t").
#5: In front of a word starting with a h aspiré.*
*: in French, words beginning with a “h" can either be h aspiré or h muet. Both could be roughly translated to “aspirated h" and “mute h".
Example of words with aspirated h in French:
Hache Hamster Haricot
In the following sentence:
Les haches / coupent les / haricots.
The axes cut the beans.
There would be no linking as both haches and haricots have an aspirated h.
Some Exceptions to the Rule
Keep in mind that the previously explained rules will not eliminate every single problematic occurrences about linking sounds.
Let’s take the example of noun and adjective.
Les fillettes [z] adorables
The adorable little girls
There is a linking sound between the noun (fillettes) and the adjective (adjective).
On the other hand, in the following phrase (noun and adjective):
Un magistrat / élégant.
An elegant magistrate.
There is no linking between magistrat and élégant.
Figuring out the exceptions, as with everything, will come with practice.