In French, stress (l'accentuation) is placed on the final syllable of a word. This is very different from the placement of stress in English which varies according to the word itself. Notice that French stress falls on the last syllable whereas English stress may fall on any syllable (word initial, word medial, or word final). This means that word stress is easily predicted (and learned!) in French.

French   English
NormanDIE   NORmandy
MéditerranEE   MediteRRAnean
AtlanTIQUE   AtlANtic
CanaDA, canadiEN   CAnada, caNAdian
PaRIS, parisiEN   PAris, paRIsian

When words are strung together in French to form sentences, stress is placed on the final syllable of the phrase. In a sense, French speakers treat a phrase like they treat a single word – they place the stress at the end. In English, on the other hand, words retain their individual stress pattern when combined into sentences. Compare the two languages:

Je visite la cathéDRALE.
Je visite la cathédrale Notre DAME.
Je visite la cathédrale Notre Dame à PaRIS.
I'm VIsiting the caTHEdral.
I'm VIsiting the caTHEdral NOtre DAME.
I'm VIsiting the caTHEdral NOtre DAME in PAris.

Listen and repeat.

1. Je NAGE.   Je nage à la MER.
2.   Je fais du SKI.   Je fais du ski dans les ALPES.
3.   Je visite la BreTAGNE.   Je visite la Bretagne en voiTURE.
4.   Je passe les vaCANCES.   Je passe les vacances à PaRIS.


Good French pronunciation requires mastery of 3 elements: individual sounds (phonemes), stress placement, and intonation. Intonation refers to the varying pitch levels of speech. Often referred to as the "melody" of a language, intonation is associated with certain sentence types: declarative, exclamative, imperative, and interrogative (questions). Listen to each of the following examples and repeat.

Declarative Intonation
Short declarative sentences typically have a falling intonation.

Il fait du soleil.
Il y a des nuages.

Longer declarative sentences often have a rise then a fall.

Je préfère visiter un musée aujourd'hui.

Exclamative Intonation
Exclamative intonation is marked by a sharp fall in pitch.

Quel beau chateau!
Quelle belle province!
Quelles vacances formidables!

Imperative Intonation
Imperative intonation is similar to exclamative intonation—that is, a sharp fall at the end.

Levez la main!
Ouvrez le livre!
Tournez à la page soixante-dix-neuf!

Interrogative Intonation
Yes/No question are signalled by a sharp rise on the final syllable.

Tu aimes la Provence?
Vous faites de la voile?
Est-ce que vous partez en vacances?

Information questions begin with a high pitch on the question word (où, pourquoi, comment, etc.) and then gradually fall.

Comment vous appelez-vous?
Qu'est-ce que vous faites dans la vie?