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10 of the most difficult French words for English speakers to say

From squirrel to kettle, these are words you might use on an everyday basis

Some French words will always be painful for English-speakers to pronounce Pic: Vaclav Matous/New Africa/Daria Marv/edgar Martirosyan/Shutterstock

No matter how hard you try, or how much time you spend in the country, some French words will always be painful for English-speakers to pronounce. The Connexion has made our list of the top 10 most difficult French words for anglophones. 

In no particular order…

1. Fauteuil (Armchair)

One of the worst sounds to pronounce in the French language might be “-euil”. This noise is not really found in the English-speaking world, making it hard to describe never mind recreate. The closest way to imagine it would be the word toy.

Pronunciation: Foh-toy

2. Heureux (Happy)

It’s far easier to be sad in French than happy or at least, it’s easier to say you are... Heureux requires two short bursts of air, an “uh” and a “ruh” – not forgetting the first letter is of course silent. If you sound like you’re clearing your throat, then you have succeeded.

Pronunciation: Uh-ruh

3. Croissant (Croissant)

Arguably the most useful word on this list if you’re as much of a French patisserie fan as The Connexion team. The word croissant combines three tricky sounds – from the hard “r” to the “w” sound in the middle, and the silent letter at the end. 

Pronunciation: Kwas-on

4. Chirurgien (Surgeon)

The word chirurgien is quite a mouthful especially with the back to back “r” – imagine a cat purring – but it could come in extremely handy so is important to perfect. Remember that in French “ch” is pronounced like “sh”, while “g” is closer to an English “j” and you will be fine.

Pronunciation: Shi-rur-jee-an 

5. Ours (Bear)

You might think a one syllable word should be easier to pronounce but when it comes to French think again! The word bear (ours) might be spelt the same as an English word but while in English the “r” is silent, the French rolled “r” overtakes the whole word.

Pronunciation: Oors

6. Écureuil” (Squirrel) 

The “-euil” sound strikes again in this word but this time it is combined with two other difficult sounds. The aigu accent on the first letter makes a sound like the “e” in hey in English, before the rolled “r”  which is pronounced from the throat. 

Pronunciation: E-cu-roy

7. Bouilloire (Kettle)

For a word that is so ingrained in everyday life (especially for tea-loving Brits) kettle is undoubtedly very tricky to say in French. There are a lot of different parts to pronounce here – the “bu” and “oui” sounds merge together, before adding the “wahr” sound at the end.

Pronunciation: Bu-wee-wahr

8. Roi (King)

Another one syllable word almost impossible for English speakers is king. As with the word moi, the “-oi” makes a “wa” sound, however after this is understood another struggle comes when that must then be combined with the rolled “r” at the beginning. 

Pronunciation: Rwa

9. Yaourt (Yoghurt)

The French word for yoghurt starts well before fading into oblivion, leaving the speaker questioning whether the word ever really ended or not… Okay that might be a bit dramatic, but the “t” at the end is preceded by a group of vowels that sound almost like a yawn.

Pronunciation: Yow-oort 

10. Œil (Eye)

Once again, one of the most basic French words is also one that trips up a lot of learners. Is it an o? Or an e? Actually, it’s neither of these. The word for a singular eye, œil, involves a diphthong that ends up sounding a bit like a flattened version of “oy.” 

Pronunciation: Oy

Read also

10 of the most difficult English words for French people to pronounce

A1, C2: What is the CEFR language rating in France?

How to learn French through language acquisition

Why it’s risqué but never passé to use a double entendre in France

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