The Fall 4-Day Sale
Apply coupon: FALL60

pronunciation of 'y'

MichaelH133

MichaelH133

The letter/word 'y' has two pronunciations. I'm trying to determine the rules.  For instance.

Il y a 

versus

y-a-t il

AND

il n'y a rien à faire

versus

j'y vais

Can you explain how to know which pronunciation to use? The best I can determine the 'y' sound is used at the beginning of a word or syllable unless it stands alone.
RobertR34

RobertR34

It depends on whether it is followed by a vowel or a consonant.  Your first three examples are pronounced like the German word for "yes" (ja), while the fourth is an "ee" sound.  This is my amateur opinion; I am not a French teacher.
Liss-Rocket-Languages-Tutor

Liss-Rocket-Languages-Tutor

Salut MichaelH133 et RobertR34 !

I would say that when y is used by itself as a word (meaning "there"), then it just has the one pronunciation: "ee." The trick is that this sound can blend with any vowels that follow it, which requires you to add in a sound like the English letter "Y."

For example, try saying the sound "ee," and then transition to the sound "ah" without a break. As you make that transition and blend the sounds together, you end up saying something like "eeyah" - it's as though a "Y" sound was added automatically as part of that transition. And that's what happens with the French word y when people are speaking quickly.

So:

When y is followed by a consonant, it simply sounds like "ee."

[rocket-record phraseId="18253"]

When y is followed by a vowel, it still sounds like "ee." However, to transition from the "ee" sound of y to the vowel sound in the next word, you can get that added "Y" sound.

[rocket-record phraseId="101690"]

[rocket-record phraseId="16772"] 

[rocket-record phraseId="17478"]

I hope that that is helpful! Do let me know if you still have any questions.

À la prochaine,

Liss
RobertR34

RobertR34

Just to add to what Liss so elegantly wrote, French does not use diphthongs like English.  Therefore,  "ee ya" just doesn't work in the language.  It is the most difficult skill for American singers to learn when they are singing in French.  I also was constantly corrected by my wonderful Swiss trombone teacher when I said  "je sais".   I would pronounce it "sayee" unless I was very careful.
MichaelH133

MichaelH133

Liss,

Thanks for the wonderful answer and clear examples. 

is still a little unclear from the audio. 

Is it -

with the 'ee' very short?

I  can barely hear the 'ee' sound in the audio recording, but assume it's there!
Liss-Rocket-Languages-Tutor

Liss-Rocket-Languages-Tutor

Salut MichaelH133 et RobertR34 !

MichaelH133, the "ee" sound of y can indeed sound short when people are speaking quickly - native speakers tend not to lean on it or emphasize it.

If you're having trouble picking that sound out of the phrases, it's likely just because your ears aren't used to hearing these sounds and are having trouble picking them up! That is a common problem for learners of a new language. I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

1. Be Sure to Wear Headphones

It may be helpful to wear headphones when you're listening to the audio - this can help to isolate the sound and allow you to hear all of the aspects of a phrase better. Increasing the volume a little and closing your eyes as you listen can also help you focus on what you're hearing. 

2. Practice Sound Breakdowns

Something else you might try is to say the phrases you're having trouble with very slowly out loud, pronouncing each word individually as you go through it (e.g. "il," "ee," "ah" for il y a).  Using the Rocket Record playback feature can be helpful with this, because then you can play what you've said back to yourself as well and listen carefully to each individual sound. Once you're familiar with each separate sound, begin to say the phrase a little more quickly. As you speed up, you'll notice how the sounds you're making naturally begin to shorten and blend together. Then, when you're ready, try listening to the native speaker audio again and see if you can pick up that y sound.

It can take some trial and error to make your ears get used to French sounds, but as you get more and more exposure to the language, you'll actually start to hear more and more things that you weren't even aware were being said!

I hope that that is helpful for you! Let me know if there's anything else I can do.

Bon courage !

Liss

Ask a question or a post a response

If you want to ask a question or post a response you need to be a member.

If you are already a member login here .
If you are not a member you can become one by taking the free Rocket French trial here .