The pronunciation of French numbers is very straightforward. French numbers build on each in almost the same way that they do in English. Therefore, once you get to twenty, it's pretty smooth sailing.
French Pronunciation of Numbers One Through Ten
The key to the pronunciation of French numbers is to master the lowest numbers first because they are the building blocks. The most difficult sound to make is probably the nasal one found in un, in, an and on.
This can be practiced by squeezing the nose with thumb and forefinger as you pronounce the letters, shortly and lightly. You will hear a nasal sound emerge. Refer to the French Pronunciation Table for help pronouncing other words.
French Pronunciation: Number Eleven Through Twenty
In English, numbers start building after 12. This is not the case in French. Numbers are distinct until 17, which is when they start building by putting together 10 (dix) and 7 (sept).
Note that in 18, the 'h' in huit is silent. Therefore, the 's' sound made by the 'x' is carried over and heard, thus dees-weet. This will happen in counting French numbers that involve 'huit.'
Additionally, the 's' sound is heard with 9 (neuf), thus dees-nuhf.
Pronouncing the Rest of the Tens
Once you arrive at twenty, it becomes a matter of adding the number to the prefix-as in English. In addition to un, cinq, and vingt, all of the -ante endings are nasal sounds.
- 20 is vingt and is pronounced as vahn (nasal)
* 21 is vingt-et un and is pronounced vahn-tay-uh
* 22 is vingt-deux and is pronounced as vahn-deu
- 30 is trente and is pronounced as tront
* 31 is trent-et-un and is pronounced as tront-tay-uh
- 40 is quarante and is pronounced as karont (nasal)
- 50 is cinquante and is pronounced as sank-ont (nasal)
- 60 is soixante and is pronounced as swa-sont (nasal)
- 80 is quatre-vingts and is pronounced as katr-vahn (nasal)
- 100 is cent and is pronounced as sohn (nasal)
- 1,000 is mille and is pronounced as meel
The Special Cases of 70 and 90
Now septante just doesn't sound right and may even sound a bit too much like its predecessor soixante. Therefore, from 60-80 is just like 1-20. At 70 add ten and keep going until 80:
- 70 is soixante-dix and is pronounced as swa-sohn-dees (nasal)
- At 90 add ten to 'quatre-vingts' and continue until 100
- 90 is quatre-vingts-dix and is pronounced as kat-ra-van-dees (nasal)
Exceptionally, in Belgium and parts of Switzerland, the terms septante for 70 and nonante for 90 are commonly used for counting the numbers 70 through 79 and 90 through 99.
French Pronunciation: Numbers Above 100
Once you've learned the numbers from 1 to 100, it's a straightforward exercise to count up to 1,000. Using the base of cent (pronounced as sohn) for one hundred, simply add one word before to indicate how many hundreds, remembering to make cents plural in its written form for these round numbers. The "s" is not pronounced when spoken. For example, deux cents is two hundred, trois cents is three hundred, quatre cents is four hundred, and so on.
To form numbers through the hundreds, such as 221 and 222, the procedure is a matter of combining the learnings above. Hence, 221 is deux cent vingt-et-un (pronounced duhr-sohn vahn-tay-uh) and 222 is deux cent vingt-deux (pronounced duhr-sohn vahnt-duhr.) Note that the plural form of cents reverts to the singular cent in these cases.
Tips for Pronunciation of French Numbers
Remember that the key to pronunciation of any new language is to listen and imitate what is heard. Traveling to French-speaking countries is the best method, because with immersion one is forced to understand, even if does not happen right away. If you can't get to France, remember that in the following countries and regions, many people speak French:
- Switzerland (in parts)
- Canada (mainly the province of Quebec)
- Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire
- Morocco and Algeria
Prepare for your travel by taking classes, watching lots of French films, listening to French audio tutorials, and even visiting local French restaurants. If you listen closely, you will notice that the French language is all around, and with lots of practice you'll be pronouncing French numbers fluently.
Counting and pronouncing the number correctly in French can help you comprehension as well as speaking the language. If you're ready to practice the basics of French numbers, print off this printable French numbers worksheet to see how well you are doing!