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The French Liaison (linking words in speech)

A liaison (sometimes incorrectly spelt liason) helps speech flow from one word to the next. I shall refer to this concept as linking. You may be surprised to know that it is more of a complicated issue than it appears because there are times when you always link words, some that never links and some are optional.
I view this linking as a linking of meaning because in some sentences, you want to link them to make it flow better but because two words are from quite differing types, they do not link. This shall be explained later.
If you do link words together like this, you take a normally silent consonant and make it sound like it is a part of the next word if the next word sounds like it starts with a vowel e.g. "vous avez" sounds a little like "voo-zavay". There are some exceptions with a few words starting with a 'h' which you can learn when you come across them in the dictionary (in mine, a ' is placed before the word such as 'haricot). If you pause between words then you DO NOT link them together. In fact, if you are unsure if you should link the words, then you could pause briefly and not link them. If you do not link them when you should, it does not matter that much. You will be understood. More on this later.
If someone thinks that you are French and you do make mistakes, you could be perceived as uncultivated or the speech sounds a little ridiculous but it doesn't matter if a foreigner makes such mistakes.
I do not think you should worry about it too much, the only ones that I believe are important are d, t, s and x because they are used frequently with verbs.

Last letter
of the word
Sounds like Example
t Quand allez-vous (sounds a bit like "cahn-tallay vou")
Elle peut aller (sounds a bit like "elle pur-tallay")
The 't' of et never links. It is always pronounced a bit like "eh"
cent euros (push the t in to euros)
z Je suis occupé
Je peux aller
venez ici
deux cents euros (the s of cents sounds like a z)
f v neuf ans (sounds a bit like "ner-vahns")
n n bon ami - you generally do not use your nose, the 'n' is more English *
-il / -ille y gentil enfant (sounds a bit like "jentii-yenfan")
-er -er premier étage (the r gets pushed in to the following word but the 'e' just before the letter r looses a bit of clarity and sounds more like the 'e' in the English word 'set')
long g only the word 'long' has the 'g' pushed to the following word
trop / beaucoup p these words are the only ones which you can push the 'p' in to the following word
un prix trop élevé
There are some exceptions where you to use your nose but still link the words together:
mon, son, ton, un, aucun.
Using the IPA pronunciation (which may not appear properly on your computer), aucun ami looks like this:
aucun /o.kœ̃/
aucun ami /o.kœ̃.n‿a.mi/.
Even if you do not understand this, you can see the nasal bit with the ~ appears on both words and the 'n' pushes in to the next word.

When to use the liaison

For beginners, you could just learn the obligatory liaisons and ignore the rest.
I understand that when there is a linking of words, they are related sorts of words (e.g. a pronoun to its verb). I do not believe it is important to know every type of grammatical term but you should have a 'feel' for a type of word. You know that the word orange in "an orange paint" is describing the paint but "one orange" is now a thing. This may help you with having a feel for related words that link together.

There are three types of liaison:
Obligatory liaisons (Liaisons obligatoires) where you always use them
Impossible / forbidden liaisons (Liaisons interdites) where you cannot use them
Optional liaisons (Liaisons facultatives)

If you use them more, you are sounding more formal. It depends on the style you wish to use. All are used in situations such as reading out poetry (but not the forbidden ones), some in business French and not as many in everyday speech (but there are the 'obligatory liaisons' that are always pronounced in any situation).

They do help you to tell the difference between certain words especially between être and avoir:
"ils sont" sounds like "eel sohn"
"ils ont" sounds like "eel zohn"

Always link these - obligatory liaisons

Words like the, my, your etc. and numbers:
les enfants (the 's' of les links the words)
ton ancien prof (ton is a possessing type of word meaning 'your' in this case)
tout homme (an adjective - the 't' links the words)
un homme - but not after the noun un(e) + noun+ no liaison + following word but this has exeptions. See below on the section "After singular nouns ..." regarding the word précieux

With verbs and pronouns or between pronouns
A verb is a word you can put 'to' in front of like 'to go'.
A pronoun is a word that replaces a person or thing e.g. I, you, it etc.
Nous avons (a pronoun and verb link)
Prenez-en (a verb and pronoun link)
elles en achètent (two pronouns linking)
Remember to add a 't' to push in to the following word. Many verbs that do not end in -er like venir and faire end in a 't' with il, elle and on. This adding of a 't' could be seen as putting it back in if the word ends in 'e' or 'a':
a-t-elle déjà dîne? = Has she already eaten?
Also add a 't' with verbs that end in a consonant such as il vainc (from vaincre) or convainc etc.

Some words that are linked as one thing
Etats-Unis = USA - pronounced a bit like "eta-zuni"
porc-épic = porcupine - pronounced a bit like "por-kepik"

The following are not strictly obligatory but they are frequently linked:
Adjective + noun Adverb and a word it modifies
important effort
certaines études
assez intéressant
trop amusé

Never link these - impossible / forbidden liaisons

Never between a noun + verb
Mes amis arrivent - this sounds a bit like "may-zami areeve". No liaison between 'amis' and 'arrivent'.

Never between two things that go with a verb
donner des cadeaux à Michel - no liaison between cadeaux and à

Never between two clauses (or two sections of a sentence)
Ils parlent et j'écoute
In fact, the word 'et' has a completely silent 't'. You never do a liaison with it.

Never between an adjective / pronoun + a different type of word
Ils sont beaux à minuit - no link between beaux and à because they are completely different types of word
Les sandwichs sont bons ici - no link between bons and ici
Mettons-les ici - no link between les and ici
Ceux avec qui je vois - no link beween ceux and avec

After singular nouns (after one thing)
This can help you tell the difference between certain words for example, the word précieux can be a noun (a thing) or it can be an adjective (something that describes things):
un précieux insolent - without a liaison, this shows that précieux is a noun. If you linked the words précieux and insolent together, then that tells the listener that it cannot be a noun and so must be an adjective in this case.
There are some words that are treated as one thing and do have liaisons:
accent aigu
fait accompli
cas échéant
mot à mot (the words mot and à link)
de part et d'autre (the words part and et link)

This is a difficult one. I think it is called "Règle de Littré". I am not entirely sure about this but this is how I understand it. If a word ends in an r and a letter that can link to the following word then do not link unless it is an 's' and it is a plural word.
There are exceptions to this though. Some examples of words WITH a liaison are:
pars avec lui
fort agréable
vers une solution

Optional liaisons

All other situations can be seen as optional. It depends on you or the situation. There are some words you will naturally avoid linking because it sounds better.

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