hardest French words to pronounce
The city of love awaits all who are willing to learn French. Source: AFP

If you’ve travelled to France, chances are you’ve looked up common phrases and greetings to at least get by day-to-day – which is a must!

However, you may not have attempted the hardest French words to pronounce.

Anyone who has taken a holiday or studied abroad would know the importance of being able to speak at least a little Français.

Usually, locals take kindly to any visitor who at least makes an effort to speak their language.

It could be something as simple as saying “bonjour” (hello) when you enter a shop or saying “s’il vous plait” (please) while ordering your food. 

Of course, many students still take up French as a foreign language even if they have never been to France.

In fact, French is one of the most common languages studied.

Mandarin Chinese, for example, is one of, if not the most, spoken language globally, used by over 1.3 billion native speakers.

Still, students prefer French over it.

The main reason? French uses the same alphabet as the English language, unlike languages where you have to learn how to write completely different characters.

French and English share many similar words, but there are nuanced differences.

The most common example would be ‘pardon’, which means the exact same thing in both languages, but is just pronounced differently in French. 

That’s not to say that the language doesn’t come with its difficulties. 

hardest French words to pronounce

Did you know that French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English? Maybe those who took on the language did not know about the hardest French words to pronounce. Source: AFP

Remember these tips to master even the hardest of French words to pronounce

Those taking French for the first time will eventually discover the main challenges in learning the language of love.

There are silent letters, nasal vowels, conjugations of verbs and agreements, along with the extremely tricky part of determining if an object is masculine or feminine. 

Silent letters

As its name implies, these are letters that you should refrain from pronouncing when they appear at the end of a word. 

  • “e” at the end of the word – such as “collège”, pronounced as “ko·lèj”
  • “p”, “g”, “n”, “m”, “s”, “t”, “d”, “x”, “z” at the end of the word –such as “beaucoup”, pronounced as “boku”
  • silent “h” at the beginning of the word – as in the word hauteur, pronounced as “o·teur”

Nasal vowels

A French nasal vowel is a specific way to pronounce French vowels.

The scientific explanation behind a nasal vowel is that it’s articulated with the velum lowered so that air passes through both the nasal and the oral cavity.

There are four nasal vowels: /ã/, /õ/, /ɛ/̃ and /œ̃/, all of which can be remembered with the phrase: Un bon vin blanc [œ̃bõvɛ̃blã], which means “a good white wine”.

A quick way to identify nasal vowels in French is to check the letters.

A vowel letter followed by an “n” such as bon [bõ], fin [fɛ̃], un [œ̃], or followed by a consonant letter, e.g.: intérêt [ɛ̃teʁɛ], ombre [õbʁ]. 

Double “l”

A double “l” can be rather tricky sometimes.

Depending on the word, you will have to pronounce it as either an “l” or a “y”. Of course, there are exceptions too. 

When a double “l” comes after an “a” or “o”, it’s pronounced as a regular “l”.

When a double “l” comes after an “i”, it’s pronounced as “y”. 

The double “l” can also be tricky sometimes. Depending on the word, it will sound like /l/ or like /y/.

It’s best to remember that in most cases, like when it comes after a or o, it will sound like a regular /l/.

When it comes after i, it sounds like /y/. You will need to learn the exceptions to this rule and pronounce all the remaining words with -ille using the sound /y/.

Now that you’ve got these tips, hopefully, learning some of the hardest French words to pronounce shouldn’t be too difficult.

hardest French words to pronounce

French is spoken in 51 different countries and is the official language in 29 countries, such as Luxembourg, Switzerland and Belgium. Source: AFP

20 of the hardest French words to pronounce and what they mean

Écureuil 

Many in this Reddit thread about hard-to-pronounce French words find the French word for squirrel, “écureuil”, a tough nut to crack.

One user recounts their students having a brutal time pronouncing “écureuil” as it has a combination of front rounded vowels, nasal vowels and mid vowels, along with the letter “r”. 

Funnily enough, non-native speakers in the same thread also find the word “squirrel” hard to pronounce.

So we’re not alone!

Fourrure 

This is French for fur. It’s another tricky word, famously known as a bit of a tongue twister. It has a double “r” and an “r”, along with a back-to-back “ou” and “u”.

Hitting the right pronunciation for this word may be difficult, but remember this – the “ou” is pronounced as a low-pitched “ooh”, while the “u” is pronounced with the classic “ew”. 

French desserts are famously prepared with creams, fruits, and custard between flaky, buttery layers, just like the iconic mille-feuille. Source: AFP

Mille-feuille

This is a very popular French dessert. It’s made up of layers of puff pastry, cream and custard, topped with either fresh fruits or swirls of chocolate.

You may have heard multiple variations of this word, but even Gordon Ramsey couldn’t get it quite right.

Despite how fancy the word looks, it’s actually pronounced “meel-fœ-yuh”. 

Who knew such a pretty dessert would be one of the hardest French words to pronounce?

Quincaillerie

Quincaillerie refers to a hardware store. 

The tricky part lies in the second half of the world. The “ai” sounds like “i”, and the “ll’s” are not pronounced.

The “-in” is a nasal sound. 

A quick hack to pronounce this word is to say “quin-cail-lerie”.

Caoutchouc

Despite the word beginning with a “c”, it’s actually pronounced like a “k”, and the “c” in the middle is pronounced as “s”. Pronounce it aloud as “kowt-schuk”.

This word means rubber, similar to its English counterpart.

The English pronunciation differs a little, pronounced as “kau-chuk” instead.

Se débrouiller

Commonly defined as “to cope, manage or get by.”

You’ll hear it used in all kinds of ways in French conversation, meaning sometimes completely different things. 

For example, removing the “se” before the verb means it could be in a physical way, for example managing documents or sorting out papers. 

An easy way to pronounce it would be to say “day-bwee-yarrd”.

Chirurgien

This word refers to a surgeon – a male one, to be exact. The feminine form is “chirurgienne”.

Instead of pronouncing it as “ch-”, it actually starts off as “shi” instead. The letter “n” is completely silent. A simple way to pronounce it would be to say “shi-rur-jyin”. 

Fun fact, chirurgien can also refer to a type of surgeonfish with a scalpel-like spine! 

Fauteuil  

Fauteuil is French for “armchair”, specifically a comfortable, upholstered one with open sides. 

Despite the word beginning with “fau”, it’s actually pronounced “foh”.

An easy way to pronounce fauteuil would be to say ‘foh-toy’, which looks absolutely nothing like the original word.

Inébranlablement

Inébranlablement translates to steadfast or unwavering. 

We’re not joking when we say the correct way to pronounce it is to say “in-ey-brah-lah-blah-moh”.

The double consonants, letter combinations and silent “e” at the end make this one of the hardest French words to pronounce. 

Anticonstitutionnellement 

A long word to unpack, and it is challenging even for native French speakers to pronounce.

This cements its place on our list of one of the hardest French words to pronounce.

It’s one of the longest words in the French language and features several consonant clusters, such as “ntst” and “llm” that require precise tongue movements.

Anticonstitutionnellement translates to “unconstitutionality” and may pop up in news reports or legal documents.

For example, “la loi a été jugée anticonstitutionnelle par la Cour suprême” (The law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).

 

Serrurerie

Serrurerie can mean a locksmith or refer to locksmithing as a trade.

In some broader use cases, it can also refer to ironwork, such as making railings, gates, windows or other metal structures. 

Similar to “chirurgien,” “serrurerie” has double consonants and many “r”s, which might make it difficult to roll off the tongue.

Try pronouncing it as “sé-ru-re-ri”, which sounds similar to “celery”.

Vadrouiller

This is a French verb defined as “to wander” or “to roam”. 

By now, you should be familiar with double “l”s and how some of them are pronounced as “y” in French.

This is another classic example – you may pronounce vadrouiller as “va-draw-yay”, which looks nothing like the original word save for the first syllable. 

Déverrouiller

This word refers to the action of unlocking, such as unlocking a door or window or unbolting a fence. 

The combination of “oi” and “ll”, along with a silent “r”, makes déverrouiller one of the hardest French words to pronounce.

Here’s a helpful way to pronounce it: “de-ve-roo-eye-ye”.

hardest French words to pronounce

Even our furry friends are fans of some good ol’ yaourt (one of the hardest French words to pronounce). Source: AFP

Yaourt

This word means yoghurt in French and is pronounced “ya-urt”.

It’s not too far off from its English counterpart, but some people struggle with stressing the first syllable correctly.

In some French regions like Brittany, people pronounce the word with a silent “T” instead, so don’t be too surprised if you hear both variations.

Vieille

Vieille is the feminine form of the French adjective “vieux”, meaning old.

You can use it to describe a person, such as “une vieille dame”, which means “an old lady”, or “une vieille ville” for “an old city”.

Despite its simple usage, this word can be tricky to pronounce.

While double “l”s usually end up as “y”, this is an exception – vieille is pronounced as “veel-el”.

Arrondissement

Pronounced as “a-ron-dis-maw”, arrondissement can mean a few things.

In France, it refers to a borough, such as an administrative division within a larger city. For example, Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements

In general use, it can refer to just a district or area within a larger city or territory.

Heureuse

Heureuse is the feminine form of “heureux”.

Both words mean happy and are pronounced almost exactly the same – “heureuse” is pronounced as “uh-ruhz” while “heureux” is “uh-ruh”. 

Do note that this word begins with a silent “h”, similar to English words like “honour” or “honest”. 

hardest French words to pronounce

The Louis Vuitton luxury shop on Faubourg Saint Honore street in Paris is indeed very “luxueuse”. Source: AFP

Luxueuse

Luxueuse means luxurious or refers to luxury in general.

You may use it to describe a glided object or paint as well, such as “finition luxueuse”, which means a luxurious finish. 

It can also be used figuratively to describe something that is simply very pleasant or enjoyable, such as a luxurious moment (un moment luxueux).

You can pronounce this word as “luk-suoez”. 

Accueillir 

Another famous example of the “ll” being pronounced as “y” instead. An easy way to master this word is to pronounce accueillir as “a-koe-yir”.

The word means to welcome.

It’s the single-word verb form of “bienvenue” but looks nothing like it.

Accueillir also can’t be used on its own, and always has to be used in a sentence or as part of an expression. 

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobie

We saved the best for last.

Yes, it’s an actual word – the definition of this long expression is “the fear of the number 666”, which is a real thing.

Even native French speakers struggle with pronouncing this correctly.

It’s also one of the longest French words ever to exist, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble avoiding this word in day-to-day conversation.