The French language can be challenging, littered with silent letters and inflections where you least expect them. Couple that with habits engrained in English, and many French city names are mispronounced. Here are ten notable examples, each a handy springboard for improving your French language skills.
How to pronounce names of French cities
Where else could we start than the French capital?
The birthplace of Molière, father of the modern French language, home to royals and revolutions, is the French city that needs no hyping.
Yet curiously, it’s a French city you’re probably pronouncing wrong, like much of the English-speaking world. Fair, considering France renamed London as Londres.
Our recording demonstrates how to say Paris like you live on the Champs-Élysées. Hint: drop the -S, it’s silent. A little inflection at the end transforms into “Paree.” Et voilà!
/ pahr-ee /
Strasbourg is a historic city popular with travelers and another name commonly anglicized.
The capital of the Grand Est on the German border is famed for its Christmas market, half-timbered houses, and French-German cuisine.
If you ever visit the home of the European Parliament, perfect your pronunciation of Strasbourg by ignoring the silent “g.” And finesse the intonation with this native French recording of Strasbourg.
/ strahz – bour /
Continuing a pattern of French cities commonly mispronounced because of a silent last letter, we land in historically significant Tours.
Tours feature on many travel itineraries, with visitors drawn to the atmospheric medieval streets and Catholic pilgrims and hikers stopping on the Santiago de Compostela trail.
To pronounce Tours, apply a general rule about silent consonants and say “Tour”. This pitch-perfect audio of Tours will help. As will our detailed guide to French pronunciation.
/ toor /
Another medieval flashpoint centered on an imposing castle is Angers, apparently named to vex (anger?) English speakers.
Once the capital of the influential Duchy of Anjou and seat of the Plantagenet dynasty (Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine the headliners), the city is a small and vibrant student city with a misleading name for English speakers.
You may have guessed that the “s” is silent. But so is the “r,” giving us something similar to “On-Zhay.”
There are more than silent letters to adjust to, and the audio pronunciation of Angers is worth the kind of king’s ransom that Richard the Lionheart was familiar with.
/ ahn-zhay /
France’s third-largest city and culinary epicenter balances the historic and modern. It’s a compelling destination for visitors looking to sample French city life outside Paris.
Also called Lyons in English, silent letters are in play again. The “n” is transformed into a nasal “on.” Compounding the awkward articulation, the initial “Ly” sounds like an extended “Lee.” This French clip vocalizing Lyon will help catch every nuance of pronouncing Lyon.
/ lee-ohn /
Nestled in the Pyrenean foothills, Lourdes was a quiet market town with an impressive castle until the Marian apparitions of 1858. The miracle at the famous Sanctuary of Lourdes transformed it into a pilgrimage destination and tourist hotspot.
Sounds like a language lord by forgetting the “s” (almost a given). Just say “Lord,” and you’ve got it, as you can hear in this recording of Lourdes.
/ lourd /
Reims, the capital of Champagne country and host to royal coronations for over 1,000 years, is an eastern city dripping in character. A place for French historical and cultural odysseys peppered with gastronomic moments.
Pronouncing Reims is less fun, as it barely sounds like the spelling. No surprise, the “s” is chopped off when spoken. It sounds like “Rance,” but the “R” rolls and the vowels sound nasal.
It’s a toughie to perfect but made easier when you hear a French speaker saying Reims.
/ rihnce /
We head to the motorsport magnet, Le Mans, for our next French city that you’re probably pronouncing wrong. And, happily, to a less tongue-twisting name than Reims.
You may know the city as the setting for the legendary Le Mans 24 (24 Heures du Mans) race. But local heritage stretches back to Roman times, and the medieval center is another historical gem.
You may have guessed the “s” is silent. A nasal “an” will ensure locals know where you’re heading without resorting to race car driving mimes. Hearing Le Mans said by a native speaker will help you pull it off smoother than an F1 pitstop.
/ lun-muhn /
Le Havre lies along the windswept Normandy coastline. At the entrance to the Seine, it has been a thriving port town since it was inaugurated by King Francis I in 1517.
An industrial city that flies under the tourist radar, Le Havre remains a vital port connection with the UK and Ireland and a stop for regional cruise ships.
Le Havre is a helpful name to practice French pronunciations. If you listen to the audio pronunciation of Le Havre, you’ll notice the customary silent “e.” Then roll that final “r” to sound utterly French. It’s a technique that will help with general French vocabulary.
/ luh-avruh /
Metz is the final French city (you’re probably mispronouncing) that we want to turn our vocab spotlight on.
Perched on the banks of the Moselle and Seille Rivers and briefly a German city, it’s home to gothic architectural marvels, splendid parks, and a cross-border personality.
The city was once called “Mès” and the absent “t” is perhaps a slightly more phonetic match for modern Metz, as this recording of pronouncing Metz illustrates.
/ mehs /
Here are a few more French city names to add to the list (to listen, right click an open in new tab):
French city names – conclusion
While there are endless towns and villages to flex your rolling rs and nasal sounds on, we’ll leave it at this set of tricky-to-pronounce French cities for now. If this guide caught your interest, check out our companion piece about French wine names you’re probably mispronouncing.
- Beginners tools for learning French
- Guide to French greetings
- Pronunciation of major French travel destinations
- French alphabet pronunciation