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How to pronounce the French o open sound - FrenchMaestro
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How to pronounce the French o open sound

How to pronounce the French o open sound

Bonjour ! and welcome to today's lesson focused on the French o sound. As you will read below, there are actually 2 different [O] sounds in French : the closed O and the open O. In this lesson, we will focus only on the open O. Its official symbol according to the IPA is /Ɔ/, but based on our experience with students learning French as a second language, we preferred to note it open [O-Ɔ] for clarity's sake. 

Before digging into the lesson, we'd like to give you a few recommendations :

  1. ​don't give up because you don't understand everything in the video : at that stage, you are here to learn and perfect your pronunciation
  2. be active during this video : repeat each word or syllable during the blank spaces we left for you on purpose
  3. take a blank sheet of paper and write down any word you don't know to start building your own list
  4. if you can't pronounce a difficult French word with /Ɔ/, just leave us a comment : we will record it for you

If you watch all our videos on the French sounds and apply the method above, in no time you will be improving your French. And now, let's focus on the French o open /Ɔ/ sound video : 

Phonetics of the French o open sound  /Ɔ/

There are 2 very distinct sounds in [O] in French. Contrary to the [A] sound for which the sounds are quite similar, the difference between the 2 [O] sounds is very strong and you must respect it to speak a correct French. 

  • /o/ : this is a closed sound, coming from the front part of your mouth. It is noted /o/ in the official IPA phonetic alphabet. Usually this sound is heard in the following circumstances :
    • end of word : mot, bateau, crapaud
    • before [z] : rose, arroser, pause
    • ô circumflex : hôtel, hôtesse
  • /ɔ/ : this sound is more "open", coming from the internal part of your mouth. It is noted /Ɔ/ in the official IPA phonetic alphabet. Usually this sound is heard in 4 situations :  
    • preceding 2 consonants : pomme, homme, botte
    • before a "R" or a "L" : or, dormir, parole
    • latin words : serum, album
    • foreign words : chewing-gumfootball, volleyball

The rules are not that complicated, but there are a few exceptions and it might take time for you to know with confidence which sound to pick. Anyway, remember that practice makes perfect :-)

Sample French o words with open [O-Ɔ] sound

We selected a few words from our 999 Essential French Words list to help you pronounce the [O] sound. Don't forget : practice makes perfect, so repeat loudly after you hear the voice saying the words in French. 

  • fort : adjective : strong
  • une porte : noun, feminine : door
  • sortir: verb : to go out, to exit
  • tortue : noun, feminine : turtle
  • encore : adverb : again

Same open [O-Ɔ] sound... different spelling

French is usually difficult to learn precisely because the letters or combination of letters are not always pronounced the same way, and reciprocally, a same sound can be written in different manners. There are more than a dozen different manners to write the same French o sound : 

  • o : homme, gomme, pomme
  • o : culotte, compote, pilote
  • eo : Georges, rougeole
  • ho : horde
  • au : dinosaure, Laure
  • um : album, serum
  • aw : tomahawk

Essential “Mots-Outils” with open [O-Ɔ]

In elementary French schools, there is a list of about 150 critical French words that kids must know before they turn 8 years old, in the class level called "CP/CE1". I always make sure to teach them to my adults students, because by knowing them by heart, you will cut your learning curve and it will help you concentrate on other difficulties. By working on the pronunciation of the French sounds, you will learn get to know them very quickly ! Here is a short extract of this list with the [O] sound : 

  • alors : then, so, well
  • comme : like, just as, just like, as well as
  • dehors : outside, out
  • encore : more, again, now, else, still, another
  • lorsque : when, as soon as, while

French Verbs with open sound [O-Ɔ]

There are tens of verbs containing the [O] sound in their radical. Our intention there is not to be exhaustive, but to provide a selection of French verbs with this syllable in various positions (initial, middle, final). Here is a short list taken from our 222 Most Valuable French Verbs list.  :  

    1st group : divorcer, égorger, prospérer

    2nd group : ​forcir, obscurcir

    ​3rd group : clore, mordre

French idioms with open sound [O-Ɔ]

Again, a new expression with an animal : a pig this time ! Literally, it would mean "to have a pig's personality". We usually use it about someone who is difficult to deal with, quite stubborn, moody, difficult to live with. 

  • avoir un chat dans la gorge : to have a frog in your throat

French for Kids

This week, a gentle dinosaur came up in our drawing book. Pay attention to the 2 different O sounds here : the first "o" is actually the closed O sound (/o/) while the "au" is the open O sound (/Ɔ/). Note that in some regions the first "o" could also be pronounced as an open O... that's right, French is full of exceptions & subtleties :-)

  • un dinosaure: a dinosaur
French For Kids : dinosaur in French is dinosaure

French For Kids : dinosaur in French is dinosaure

French culture starring... the open [O-Ɔ] sound !

Who said pronunciation has to be boring ?! So why not discover a bit of French culture while practicing your pronunciation of the [O-Ɔ] sound ? We have selected for you those famous symbols of France - a purely subjective choice, based on our personal preferences ;-)

  • Georges Brassens : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • Victor Hugo : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • Roquefort : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • Orléans : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • Christian Dior : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • Thorgal : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.
  • 36 Quai des Orfèvres : bla bla bla in anglish, 2-3 lines maximum.

A difficult French word with open [O-Ɔ] sound ?

If you still struggle to pronounce correctly the open [O-Ɔ] sound in French, we're here to help. Leave us a comment below with the word you can't pronounce, and we will record it for you. We'll only ask you to avoid any slang / crude terms, as this page is accessible by general audiences - including kids.  

Requested French words with [O-Ɔ] sound  :

  •  none so far... be the first ( "Soyez le premier !") and leave us a comment below !

A bientôt !

This was probably more complicated than the [A] sound, but I hope you enjoyed this lesson on the open [O] sound. I actually didn't think the video would last more than 25 minutes ! If not already done, I encourage you to read the similar lesson on the French O closed sound. We have a lot more to come in the next few weeks, so stay tuned with our method. If you consistently practice the pronunciation of all the sounds in French (remember, we have more than 150 !) I guarantee you will be speaking a perfect French in no time.

And now before leaving :

A detailed #frenchlesson video from @FrenchMaestro : 25 minutes to pronounce correctly the open [O] sound in #french. 

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About the Author yannick

Born in Paris where he has spent more than 30 years, Yannick is a French native speaker now based in Ireland. His interest in learning foreign languages comes from his Italian grand-father, his Spanish wife and his Japanese sister-in-law. Teaching French has been a passion since his early twenties when he spent countless hours exchanging with international students.

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