prononciation de "ai", notamment à différents temps (futur, conditionnel, imparfait…)


USA English
Moderator note: Multiple threads have been merged to create this one. This question is very common so this thread is very long but it is also quite complete. Note that there is no single “correct” pronunciation as it varies from country to country and even from region to region. If you don't want to read the whole thread, note that the “standard” pronunciation is the following:
  • futur & passé simple (-ai), e.g., j'irai, j'allai → [e] (é, similar to the ‹a› in “ace”)
  • conditionnel & imparfait (-ais, -ait, -aient), e.g., j'irais, j'allais → [ɛ] (è, as the ‹e› in “elk”)
  • présent (-ai & -ais), e.g., j'ai, je vais, je sais → no standard pronunciation but often [e]
See also the following detailed website Chantez-vous français ?

In my studies I believe the sound of future tense is the same as the conditional tense. I remember learning the only way to know the difference is the structure of the sentence. But recently someone (who is not french by the way) suggests that the sounds are different. I can't remember for certain so I am wondering if any french people out there know if there is a difference.

For example:

future - je mangerai (i will eat)
conditional - je mangerais (i would eat)

the "ai" and "ais" endings I believe are the same sound, "eh" or è.
But some say the sounds are different.
They say future (ai) is pronounced é (closed e) while conditional is è (open e)

Can anyone advise?

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  • Lizette12054

    Hello- Is there any way I can get help with distinguishing the pronunciations of the first person singular future tense and conditional? je parlerai vs je parlerais?


    Senior Member
    American English
    I think I can hear a difference in French Canadian where the conditional ending sounds more "open" to me (eh). But you'd better wait until a Canadian comes along to confirm this.


    Senior Member
    When I learned French Canadian a long time ago, there was a clear distinction between the two:

    "je chanterai" was pronounced exactly the same as "vous chanterez" (rhymes with "gray")

    "je chanterais" was slightly different, rhyming with "frais" or "très".

    Nowadays in France I hear both pronounced the same way (rhyming with "très"). And indeed I see many spelling mistakes confusing the two, whereas in French Canadian they are easily dstinguished and I don't remember such mistakes.


    Senior Member
    French / France
    Same thing in Auvergne. However the sound "ai" should be pronounced "è" (large mouth opening), most french people pronounce it "é", (small mouth opening). Anyway, open or close mouth, both are pronounced exactly the same way.
    Hope it helps!


    Senior Member
    REAL bilingual Eng&Fr from bilingual background
    Comme disait l'autre poster, c'est entièrement une question de contexte:est ce une action future certaine ou simplement une possibilité...
    en français il y a officiellement une difference de prononciation entre les différents ai/ais/ez/er/é mais franchement de nos jours on ne l'entend pas...


    Senior Member
    English (England)
    mapping said:
    I can confirm that here in France both are pronounced exactly the same, which causes a lot of spelling mistakes !
    I was taught that the chanterai chanterais (é-è) difference had only dropped in the north, particularly in the Paris region, and that it was still maintained elsewhere, particularly in the south - Do southerners also agree that there is no difference for them?


    Senior Member
    To me yes, there is still a difference. :)
    La bouche légèrement ouverte, avec un petit son qui chante...

    Edit: En tous cas en ce qui me concerne.


    China, speaks Chinese, English, French
    As a Canadian in French Immersion, I must say that most (if not all) of my classmates make no distinction between the pronunciations but my teacher specifically spent one whole lesson on the differences in sound!


    Senior Member
    Français, French - France
    anangelaway said:
    To me yes, there is still a difference. :)
    La bouche légèrement ouverte, avec un petit son qui chante...
    Oui, je le prononce ouvert aussi comme toi Anangelaway ! :D
    Mais, Tim, ça dépend et du lieu et de la personne. Donc on ne peut pas vraiment généraliser sur les différences de prononciation nord/sud je crois.


    English speaker - Ireland
    Hi everybody,

    This is something that's been bugging me for a while. Is there a pronunciation difference between the present conditional and the future tenses?

    Are 'Je serai' and 'Je serais' pronounced exactly the same? I've been told that they are but I could swear I hear a difference when French people say it. Is it my imagination?


    English speaker - Ireland
    Your Majesty, you're the first to get the joke! :)

    Yeah, I've always believed that they're pronounced the same and you can tell the difference from the context but I swear I hear the French pronouce the conditional ending a little 'flatter', almost like it drops off quicker. Maybe it's just the legendary Strasbourgeois accent, though. ;)

    Agnès E.

    Senior Member
    France, French
    No, it isn't. :p

    Theoretically speaking, we are supposed to pronounce the future tense (je serai) more like an é -- and the conditional tense (je serais) like an ê (wide open).

    Nowadays, this difference tends to disappear; some regional accents maintain it, though.


    English speaker - Ireland
    Oh, okay Agnès and LRV, that makes sense now. That's exactly what I was hearing but it really is very difficult to detect. I suppose it will disappear completely soon. So it's agreed! We'll both put them into practice while we still have them. :)

    Thanks again.


    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    I learned them as different sounds and I can detect the difference. It's more difficult to hear the difference in Paris but it's there. I recommend to pronounce them differently when speaking even if you can't hear the difference.

    To compare to English, the ending of serai is like in "eight" and the ending of "serait" is like "bet". You're right that in reality these sounds are much closer, the ending of "serait" is to my ears somewhere between "eight" and "bet".

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    Senior Member
    As a Paris-born Frenchie, I swear I've never heard nor made any difference between serai & serais !!!
    Where on earth have you all got thone finely attuned ears !?!?


    Senior Member
    American English; United States of America
    Hi there.

    Is there a difference in pronounciation between, for instance "J'irai" and "J'irais"?

    I've read on here that there is, but I don't really hear one when I listen to people or the various text-to-speak engines speak.

    Any help would be great. Thanks!


    Senior Member
    It's a regional thing. In Parisian French I believe there is a distinction. ais is the same vowel as in English "set", while ai is like é. There are some threads that talk about where the distinction is not made. I believe southern France doesn't distinguish the two.


    Senior Member
    Ireland (Hiberno-English)
    To my ear, there is a difference. It's difficult to explain phonetics over the internet, in words, when I have no idea how you pronounce your English!!! :D

    My basic attempt :

    J'irai combines the vowel sounds of the English words "ear" and "ache".
    [The AI vowel is pronounced like é.]

    J'irais combines the vowel sounds of the English words "ear" and "heck".
    [The AIS vowel is pronounced more like the "eh" sound of "egg". It is not the exact same vowel sound though. The example is very extreme, and perhaps separates these two similar sounds a bit too much.]

    I hope this helps show the direction in which the vowel change moves, even though it is impossible to find English equivalents for these sounds. :)


    Senior Member
    English UK
    I thought I'd start a new thread on this. It came up in another one, but I think my comments there were at a slight tangent to what the original poster said.

    Anyway, I'd like to ask native speakers about the sound they use to pronounced words ending in -ait -ais -aient.

    This came up before in the context of the pronounciation of the imperfect tense endings, however I'd like to widen the discussion.

    As I said in the other thread, I was taught that the imperfect (and conditional) endings were more of an (è) sound, compared to the (é) sound in the future tense, for example:


    mangeais (mange - eh)


    mangé (mange - ay)

    I found a reference in Grevisse's Le Bon Usage, saying people sometimes used (è) for the future and passé simple but that it was useful to always pronounce them with (é) so as to distinguish them from the imperfect and conditional -- which seems to suggest the difference I outlined above, is supposed to exist. However perhaps it's not observed any more?

    I note also, looking through my Petit Robert, that many words ending in -ait are given the phonetic symbol for the (è) sound, which in speech, I think, are often said with a sound more like the (é). These include:


    I'd like to know how native speakers here pronounce endings like these.


    Senior Member
    Bonjour, voici mon point de vue.
    La france est divisée en deux parties. Dans la moitié nord, qui n'a pas été influencée par la langue d'oc, (mais peut-être que ça n'a aucun rapport), les gens prononcent la voyelle AI comme è, c'est à dire [E] en phonétique sampa. Ces gens prononcent lait, mais et français comme lè, mè francè, ou en phonétique : [lE], [mE], [frA~sE]. Ces gens prononcent les infinitirs en er, les participes passés différemment : ils les prononcent é, soit [e] en phonétique sampa. Parmi ces gens, rares sont ceux, je pense, qui se souviennent que bien que le futur se termine en AI, on doive le prononcer é (ou [e]), et le prononcent [E] comme n'importe quel mot en AI, et comme l'imparfait.

    Dans la moitié sud, les gens ne prononcent la voyelle [E] que si elle est suivie d'une consonne dans la même syllabe. Sinon, ils la prononcent é (soit [e], en phonétique). Ces gens prononcent donc lé, mé, francé. (ou [le], [me], [frA~se]). Ils prononcent le futur comme é, et l'imparfait aussi.

    Paris est une grande ville, qui abrite des gens d'origines très diverses. en s'influençant les uns les autres, les gens de Paris adoptent une prononciation qui est parfois un mélange de ces deux tendances, difficile à analyser.


    New Member
    United States - English
    I'm confused concernign the pronounciation of th letters "ai", as in J'ai, aimer, parelerai... I would prounce the "ai" in all these words with an "eh" sound.
    In highschool French, I was taught "ai" sounds like "ez". (As in the American English word "pay")
    In college French I was taught that "ai" sounds like "eh". (As in the American English word, "pet")
    Then I found this, which describs both pronounciations:
    and this, which only allows the pronounciation I was taught in high school, by grouping "ai" with "ez" and "er":
    w ww.fonetiks .or g/so u2 fr.h t ml

    So whats the story here?! :)


    Senior Member
    french / france
    Can't really say, I'm from the south, all my"ai", "et" etc... sound the same.

    At least I brought up the topic ;)


    Senior Member
    French, France
    ..., which only allows the pronounciation I was taught in high school, by grouping "ai" with "ez" and "er":
    Probably because your teacher couldn't hear nor reproduce these two different sounds or maybe to make it simple for the students.
    The ai sound is the same as the è sound like in faire or colère.
    The ez and er sounds are the same as the é sound like in parter, évaser or étuvée.


    New Member
    Australia, English
    Bonjour à tous,

    Can anyone tell me if there's a difference in pronunciation between "je devrai" and "je devrais"?

    For example,

    Je devrai partir demain. - I'll have to leave tomorrow [I must leave; I have no choice.]

    Je devrais partir demain. - I should leave tomorrow [but I might not - I haven't decided yet.]

    If there isn't, then in spoken French, how would one distinguish between "I'll have to..." and "I should..."?

    Merci en avance pour vos réponses.


    New Member
    France French
    as in english, it depends on the context
    but if, for example an english friend who is here, in paris, told me "je devrais partir demain", it would sound more like "conditionnel" (i don't know how we say in english sorry)
    because usually, when you talk about something you are going to do, something that is planned, you don't use the future tense
    if my friend is going to leave tomorrow, he will rather say: "je pars demain", or "je vais partir demain", once more, it depends on the context as for which one he is going to use..

    (we say "merci d' avance", not "en" avance ^^)
    j' espere avoir pu t' aider (un minimum au moins)


    When you say words in the conditional tense, such as "il ferait", you pronounce "ait" as "eh" as in elephant. So why is it that one does not say "il feh" for il fait or "meh" for mais? Also is it 100% necessary to say words in the imperfect like "faisais" as "faiseh "?


    Senior Member
    While I'm sure that the pronounciation books have an exact answer to your question, I'm suspecting that in practice, regional accents would erase any grammatical distinctions, so that what is important is the context and the more obvious parts of the conjugation to the ear, where one can tell at once whether the verb is in the past, present or future or conditional.


    Senior Member
    I'm taking a second pass at this one.

    Take the verb "parler", for example.

    parlé, parlais, parlait, parlaient, etceteras.

    If you took five audio clips of each of these conjugations without context from different movies, and then played the clips to groups of francophones from ten different francophone countries, and then asked each subject to correctly identify the tense according to the above list, you would see much confusion.

    If you then added in the context, you would see 100% agreement.

    That being said, there are purists who will certainly profess to know how to pronounce the distinctions between each of the examples, and plenty of books that will tell you that there are in fact differences. And so, theoretically, there are differences in how to pronounce each of these conjugations.

    But in real-life practice, it is the context that gives you the best clues.

    Again, regional differences in accent erase any distinctions in how to pronounce these different examples.

    Just my anglophone 2 cent opinion, eh? OOPS, I meant, ay?


    Senior Member
    When you say words in the conditional tense, such as "il ferait", you pronounce "ait" as "eh" as in elephant. So why is it that one does not say "il feh" for il fait or "meh" for mais? Also is it 100% necessary to say words in the imperfect like "faisais" as "faiseh "?

    You definately say "il feh" ,"meh" etc..


    Senior Member
    Tolosa/Toulouse - Occitan/Catalan/Français
    Ok, opinion from a Southern French girl:
    As I am from Toulouse (Southern France, in general), I would pronounce with my regional accent "parlé, parlais, parlait, parlaient": the same! that is "parlé" (closed, like the spanish "e").
    But I was taught that, speaking good French implies to differentiate the "parlé" from the other ones "parlais, parlait, parlaient". The latter must be pronounced "parlè" (open, like "way" in English, say...).
    You don't need to discriminate those forms ("parlè") by pronouncing them differently to write them the right way: "parlais" is always preceded by "je" or "tu", "parlait" by "il", "elle" or "on" and "parlaient" by "ils" or "elles".
    It may sound difficult for a non-native, but it seems obvious for me. ;-)


    Senior Member
    English, United States
    Est-ce que les mots "parlé" et "parlait" se prononcent pareillement? Quand j'ai commencé mes études de français ils se prononcaient différemment. Moi, je préfère la différence, mais je ne veux pas sembler snob.

    Qu'en pensez-vous?


    Senior Member
    Ils se prononcent différemment.

    'Parlait': same vowel sound as in 'set', 'pen', 'head'.
    'Parlé' : more like the vowel sound in 'day', 'eight'.

    But it all depends on the région of France. In the South, they tend to sound the same ('parlé').


    Senior Member
    English (England)

    I remember being told this distinction at school, and I have read it in books about good use of French in France, however my experience is that actual French people's usage varies. Sometimes you will hear a clear difference, more often not. Often it is not a case of a clear-cut eh or ay difference between regardais/regardé (for example) but I think the ais/ait sound is often not quite as sharp as the é - it is somewhere in-between the two extremes. This is what I think I do now. I feel a bit too artificial saying a full-on 'eh' sound for the imperfect, even though this is what seems to be recommended in dictionaries with phonetic alphabet pronunciations - ie I think it's commonly not really 'eh' (like bet, get) but something in between that and the 'ay' sound used for the perfect tense. The saome goes for lait. mais etc.

    I have noticed (I live in Paca) that the way people say things is often not quite what dictionaries suggest. For example, if you believe dictionaries bon soir is pronounced bon swar, with an 'a' sound as in pat/cat, whereas I hear bon swahr (more like in father).


    Are parlerais and parlerai pronounced the same?

    I find it hard to hear a difference. I've heard parlerai should be pronounced with a 'eh' sound at the end, while parlerais should have the 'ay' sound-- They all sound the same to me!

    I'm curious as to what the natives say.


    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    If I remember well, it is parlai (the passé simple) which is pronounced "parlé". Parlerais and parlerai are both pronounced "parlerè". There's no difference between the futur and the conditionnel.

    There have been many threads in the French forums about the pronunciation of the digraph "ai". Search for the keywords "pronunciation", "simple past", "future", "conditional", and their French translations.


    English - USA
    For pronunciation questions, may I recommend our Phonetics, Pronunciation thread in Resources? Not only will you find useful sites like this one, but you will also find a post about IPA symbols, which are rather a more meaningful way to type out phonetics.


    Senior Member
    When I was at school (a long time ago), we learned to pronounce the future tense and the conditional tense differently. This made the spelling simple. But in recent decades they have come to be pronounced exactly the same (è). I find this has lead to confusion and a huge increase in spelling mistakes.


    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I am currently perfecting my French accent with a (French) French teacher of several decades' experience and she agreed with me that there IS meant to be a difference - future and passé simple is the [é] sound and conditional and imperfect is the [è] sound. However in practice they often now all sound the same in many people's usage (é). I read the same in a (French) book about good language use recently.
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