Tuesday, November 20, 2012

French: Dangerous Liaisons

If you know French, you know that for some crazy reason you rarely pronounce the end of a word. Non? Exactly.

But French can't just keep things simple like that... sometimes you do say the end of a word, when you have an awkward vowel sound at the beginning of the next word. This is called liaison. Even then, not 100% of these cases are obligatory.

"I hate studying French!
How could my life get worse!?"

Take the word for "and", et. For some reason this little blighter doesn't like to liaise. Its school reports often cite "does not play well with others".

Think of asking for the time: Quelle heure est-il?

If we break it down we have the following:

quelle = "which"
heure = "hour", in reference to the time
est = "is" from the verb Γͺtre, to be. Usually pronounced like "ey"/"eh".
il = "he/it" We always would remember he being God for a bit of fun.

Which hour is it? In a world of terrible translations, that is what the question means. Thank God we're looking at liaisons and not translation.

"Quelle heure est... forget it! I'll just find a clock!"

So what about this magical "t" sound? Well the French don't like their beautiful language to be butchered by horrible sound combinations such as a double vowel without a glide, so they pronounce the final sound of "est" and combine it with the start of "il". Try saying "quelle heure est il?"... pronounced "ey eel". They're right! "Quelle heure est-il?", roughly pronounced "eh-teel", does sound much better. English does the same with the words a and an. Just try saying a elephant. Not only does it sound horrible, but it makes you look like an idiot. Especially if you're reading this in a library and have just blurted out "a elephant".


  1. The only problem is that the right question is: "Quelle heure est-il?".

  2. Whoops! That's what we meant. That's been changed. Thanks Alice!

  3. Reminds me of when I worked on a boat in the Med with a French crew and I said I was going to fetch something from "en haut". The Captain's wife gently chided me saying that, in French, the liaison is not made between 'en' and 'haut'. I'd said in a rather clumsy fashion (no doubt thinking I was all clever), "en-aut"…

    We live and learn!