How do you pronounce ville (city) and fille (daughter)? In all logic, the pronunciation should be the same, but is it? The French language has its idiosyncrasies that make learning interesting and challenging at times. Words like ville, fille, fil, fils (city, daughter, thread, son) have their own stories to tell. Are you ready?
Words ending in -ille (with a double ll), such as brille (shines) and fille (girl/daughter), follow a specific pronunciation rule. The -ille sound is roughly equivalent to the sound “ee-yuh” in English, as in “giddy-up."
Listen to Sam, who sees the sunny side of life in this video, and pay attention to the way he says brille:
Le soleil brille dehors.
The sun is shining outside.Play Caption
Most words ending in -ille end with same “ee-yuh” sound. Hence, it’s no surprise to hear that brille (shines) rhymes with fille (girl/daughter):
Sa fille lui expliqua et lui demanda conseil.
His daughter explained it to him and sought his counsel.
Caption 42, Contes de fées Le roi grenouille - Part 1Play Caption
However, you guessed it, there are exceptions! No need to panic, though, as there are only three: mille, tranquille, ville (thousand, tranquil, city). In these words, the -ille is pronounced differently, like “eel” in English. (Note, however, that the word for "eel," anguille, rhymes with fille!)
Listen to the way mille, tranquille, and ville are pronounced in the following videos:
Notre amour brillera de mille feux
Our love will shine a thousand firesPlay Caption
L'avantage, c'est qu'on peut s'y promener de façon vraiment tranquille
The advantage is that you can walk here in a really tranquil fashion
Caption 17, Antoine La Butte-aux-CaillesPlay Caption
Nous sommes maintenant dans la vieille ville de Chartres
We are now in the old town of Chartres
Caption 6, Voyage en France La Ville de ChartresPlay Caption
If a word ends in -ile, with a single l, this is no longer an issue, as you simply sound the l as you would normally.
Et des automobiles qui se suivent en file et défilent
And of automobiles that follow in line and drive pastPlay Caption
The feminine noun la file (line) has a masculine homophone, le fil (thread/wire), with no e at the end. They both sound the same but mean different things:
la prêtresse grecque qui déroula son fil
the Greek priestess who unravelled her threadPlay Caption
In the plural form, le fil becomes les fils (threads/wires), and they share the same pronunciation since the s in the plural is always silent:
Bon, enfin. -Et les fils?
Well, anyway. -And the wires?Play Caption
So far so good. However, the word fils has another trick up its sleeve! Les fils (threads/wires) could also be les fils (sons). Fortunately, these two words are easy to tell apart as they have a different pronunciation. When talking about les fils (sons), the l is silent while the final s is pronounced.
Il transmit à ses fils tout ce qu'il possédait.
He passed on to his sons everything he possessed.
Caption 5, Contes de fées Le chat botté - Part 1Play Caption
Furthermore, le fils (the son) also ends in a sounded s, even though it’s singular:
Il cherche son fils à l'école.
He looks/is looking for his son at school.
Caption 9, Farid et Hiziya Chercher et trouverPlay Caption
The only way to tell how to pronounce fils—and whether it's referring to threads, wires, or sons—is through context.
Merci mille fois (many thanks) for following le fil (the thread) of this newsletter!