a, à, â (prononciation : antérieure [a] / postérieure [ɑ])

corneliuskid

New Member
English - USA
In a workbook for children, I need some French words that have the "a" sound of the English word "father."

Le Robert has some sample words as pâte, bas, pas. I need about nine more words with the same "a" sound as in "father." Could someone please suggest some words?

Thank you so much!


Moderator note: Multiple threads have been merged to create this one.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    délabrer, entasser, délasser, mâcher, tâche, bâbord, appât, château, châssis, châtiment, châtaigne, opinâtre, las/lasse, canaille (the second "a"), etc.....

    as you can see, there are lots... and a good tip-off is the accent circonflexe!

    for the record, I am under the impression that there is a tendancy for the two French short "a" sounds to be less and less distinguishible; many speakers will make little difference between patte and pâte, both sounding more like patte. perhaps a native speaker would have more to say on the subject. of course, to the American ear, both of these "a" vowels are better approximated by "father" than they are by e.g., "cat", so this may be a moot point...
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    délabrer, entasser, délasser, mâcher, tâche, bâbord, appât, château, châssis, châtiment, châtaigne, opinâtre, las/lasse, canaille (the second "a"), etc.....
    My two cents...
    I wouldn't choose bâbord... the word is either spelled with or without the "accent circonflexe", and the a sounds more like the a in Babylone (at least I pronouce it this way). By the way... opiniâtre (the i was missing... then again it's not an everyday word).

    About the patte/pâte feeling... imho, this is more the case in Europe than in French Canada. I hear a distinctive difference in Quebec... even when people don't diphtong (the diphtong makes pâte sound as pout). :)
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    Hi. I would not have chosen bâbord either, in spite of the circumflex.
    I think délabrer and canaille are not pronounced like you want, either. (for canaille, it is a regionalism to pronounce it so, I think.)
    easy words for which I am sure, and that do not take a circumflex :
    sable, gras and grasse (the adjective), bas and basse, classe
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Oh dear. I wouldn't pronounce anything ending in -alle or -asse the same way as the 'a' in 'father - surely they're much too short? Or has my French pronunciation all these years been wrong?
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    No, the pronounciation of "salle" or "basse" is not shorter than a in father, I am afraid...
    I gave those words, because I knew they were likely to seem paradoxal to a foreigner. (because of the lack of a circumflex)
    You know, you the English speakers can be very impressive too, if you provide us with irregular English words to pronounce, (there are plenty of them), and we will be very amazed (or frustrated to have been ignoring the truth for such a long time).
    for example, I was very shocked (!) when I learned how to pronounce the word "salmon" or the name "Stephen" :)
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    So, you're saying that e.g. 'a' is pronounced the same way in 'basse' and 'bas'? I'd always assumed that the double 's' afterwards would shorten it.
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    I think délabrer and canaille are not pronounced like you want, either. (for canaille, it is a regionalism to pronounce it so, I think.)
    easy words for which I am sure, and that do not take a circumflex :
    sable, balle, malle, table (and any word ending in able)... I don't agree, salle, gras and grasse (the adjective), bas and basse, classe
    I definitely pronounce the a in balle, malle, table, salle, shorter than I do for the other words in your list. And as far as words ending in asse, I would say the rule (although may be not general) is monosyllabus = longer a. For instance, you will hear a short a in mélasse, but a "father" a in classe, basse. Not easy... especially that not everybody pronounces the "father" a the same way.

    Hum... since the book is addressed to children, you may be safer using mostly words with a circumflex after all. :) Short ones like âne, crâne...
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    So, you're saying that e.g. 'a' is pronounced the same way in 'basse' and 'bas'? I'd always assumed that the double 's' afterwards would shorten it.
    Hi. the difference between a in patte and â in pâte is mainly a difference in the "color" of the vowels. Their lengths are different also, but length is not a very important feature in French phonology. (unlike in english). Dictionaries (unless very specialised ones) do not indicate the length of french vowels by putting a colon ( : ) in the phonetic script. But they will use different symbols for the a in patte (closed a), and the a in pâte. (open a)
    A double consonant does shorten vowels, you are right, but only closed ones, that is for example the a in patte. With open vowels, the effect is contrary : They are lengthened. so basse is pronounced with an open, long a, even longer than in "bas" (also an open a), but as I said, length is less important than "openness".
    This remark may be absolutely irrelevant for Canadian French, of course.
    Nicomon does not agree with me on the pronounciation of some words, I am sure that he or she is right in Quebec.
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Something I think my lecturers must have totally forgotten to point out during the term I spent doing French phonology at uni, then. Oh well, better to learn late than never that I've been pronouncing things all wrong. Thanks for putting me right.
     

    corneliuskid

    New Member
    English - USA
    There is such a wealth of information here.....but now I'm getting a little confused. Are there some words that everyone can agree upon...that have the "a" as in "father"? This workbook will be used both in France and in Canada. (I'd like to include some with and some without the circumflex, if possible.)

    Thanks so much!
     

    Nicomon

    Senior Member
    Français, Québec ♀
    Hi. the difference between a in patte and â in pâte is mainly a difference in the "color" of the vowels. Their lengths are different also, but length is not a very important feature in French phonology.
    A double consonant does shorten vowels, you are right, but only closed ones, that is for example the a in patte. With open vowels, the effect is contrary : They are lengthened. so basse is pronounced with an open, long a, even longer than in "bas" (also an open a), but as I said, length is less important than "openness".
    This remark may be absolutely irrelevant for Canadian French, of course.
    Nicomon does not agree with me on the pronounciation of some words, I am sure that he or she is right in Quebec.
    My mistake. Shorter was a very wrong choice of words.:eek: I meant closed vowel as opposed to open vowel (often longer)... or as you say "color". Yet it confuses me to read that you pronounce balle, malle, salle and table with the same open A, as in sable, bas/basse, classe or... father. Does everyone in France pronounce those your way? :confused:


    It seems the French do not agree with the Swiss, neither. I definitely do not pronounce "sache", "crache", "lache" and "dame" with an open A. I pronounce "lache" (let go) with a short, closed A, and "lâche" (coward) with an open long A.
    We're in agreement on this one... except for "lache". I use open A for both meanings. :)
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    Bonsoir.
    Je viens de rentrer, et je peux consulter mon dictionnaire Robert.
    Eh bien, il vous donne raison sur tous les points que vous mentionnez.
    J'avais tort, et seuls les mots sable, bas, basse, classe se prononcent avec un A ouvert.
    Lâche, l'impératif de lâcher, s'écrit avec un accent circonflexe, et se prononce comme l'adjectif lâche.
    Je vais éditer mes posts pour effacer mes erreurs qui prêtent à confusion.
    Il semble qu'au Québec, la prononciation des alternances voyelles ouvertes voyelles fermées soit bien plus précise qu'en France, ou tout moins que ce que j'en croyais... :eek:
     

    corneliuskid

    New Member
    English - USA
    Thank you to everyone!

    Okay, my list of simple French words that contain the "a" sound of "father" are as follows:

    pâte
    classe
    bas
    tâche
    château
    façade
    pas
    hâter
    mâcher
    gras

    What do you French experts think? Should I change any of these words to something else, or do you all agree they have the sound of "a" in "father"?

    Thank you!
     

    Fred_C

    Senior Member
    Français
    The Robert dictionary agrees with you on every word except "façade".
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    corneliuskid

    New Member
    English - USA
    Thanks for checking my list and for the advice! I have removed façade and replaced it with crâne.

    I appreciate everyone's help so very much!
     

    makala

    Senior Member
    bosnian
    Can someone explain when when the unaccented ''a'' in a word is pronounced like having a circonflexe?
     
    Last edited:

    makala

    Senior Member
    bosnian
    There are words or verbs like passer in which the a is supposed to be pronounced like the ''a'' with circonflexe. I read that this ''a'' isn' pronounced anymore different than the normal ''a'', except in words like ''pâte''. I want to know because of the vowel length, for example ''sable'' has a long ''a'', but ''table'' a short one. This is because the ''a'' in sable is different than the one in table, so I wanna know when is the normal ''a'' considered to be a ''â''?
     

    Michael_B

    Senior Member
    French
    for example ''sable'' has a long ''a'', but ''table'' a short one. This is because the ''a'' in sable is different than the one in table
    It's interesting, I'm french and I didn't know that, I pronounce sable and table just the same, I have never heard anyone pronounce them differently.

    Wait for the grammar experts, there might be a rule for this but as a french, I can tell you that the circonflex on the letter 'a' is already very subtle..

    I guess it depends on where you live, in Paris, we no longer say 'mal' and 'mâle' differently for example, we know there is a slight difference in theory, we could say it differently, but nobody really does..

    I'm trying to find words that would sound weird if you pronounced the 'â' as a 'a' but I can't find any.. Maybe the words that end in -âtre (idolâtre, bellâtre) but honestly it's only because I wanted to find something..

    To me the 'â' is just outdated but like I said, it may depend on where you live, maybe in the south it's another story cause all the accents there are pretty strong and for example in Northern France the 'a' is almost like a '/o/' (click on the link to hear it)

    But here in Paris, 'a' and 'â' are pronounced like a normal 'a' really, so if you're looking to learn general french, you shouldn't worry too much about that because besides wasting your time, you might end up sounding like an aristrocrat.
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    As Michael_B said, you don't really need to worry about the difference in vowel quality between front [a] and back [ɑ], and unfortunately there are not really any reliable rules to know when an ‹a› written with no accent is (or used to be) pronounced like an ‹â›. You just have to look in the dictionary, and don't be surprised if the dictionary allows both pronunciations (see the TFLi for sable and passer, for example).

    I want to know because of the vowel length, for example ''sable'' has a long ''a'', but ''table'' a short one.
    You don't need to know this either, in fact. Sable only has a long vowel if you pronounce it with [ɑ]. If you just use [a], like many people, then it is short. (Again, have a look at the two pronunciations in the TLFi.)

    In other words, you can pronounce sable just like table and no one will say anything. If you make an effort to pronounce it sââble, many people will think you are talking funny.

    In passer the ‹a› should always be short (whether you use [a] or [ɑ]), because it is not stressed.
     
    Last edited:

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    Un château de sàble (rhyme with table) sounds absurd.
    Yes, sorry, I should have made it clear that while many varieties of French have mostly abandoned the distinction between [a] and [ɑ], in many others it is alive and well (although speakers of such varieties do not always agree about which words have [a] and which ones have [ɑ]).

    The fact is that because of differences like this, many native French speakers sound absurd to many other native French speakers.

    […]
     
    Last edited by a moderator:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top