Ten French towns you’ll likely pronounce wrong

Ten French towns you'll likely pronounce wrong
Don't get confused - here's how to pronounce the most deceptive town names in France. Photo: LetsBook/Flickr
The Local has toured France and found ten of the most tongue-twistingly difficult or deceptively tricky town names to pronounce, unless you're French.

Have you ever told a French person about a beautiful town you’ve visited and they have no idea where you are referring to?

The chances are you've been to a place in this list and pronounced it totally wrong.
 
From the ever-difficult rolling Rs, to names that look deceptively familiar but actually are quite foreign indeed, the list is a lengthy one but here's our top 10 trickiest.
 
 
1. Reims
 
This one is easy right? Wrong. In fact, the spelling and pronunciation of this town in north east France are not even close.
 
Check out this video clip of British sports presenter Mark Chapman talking about the town. His pronunciation is pretty much spot on, but football pundit Micah Richards – who has presumably only seen the name written down and made the not-unreasonable assumption that it is pronounced 'reems' – thinks it's the funniest thing he's ever heard.
 

 
 
 
The town is pronounced more like 'Rance' with a nice bit of throaty, rolling French Rs.
 
2. Versailles

 

(Ominous clouds at the Palace of Versailles. Photo: Artamir78/Flickr)
 
This is one of the most famous places in France, and now has its own TV series full of historic killing and shagging. With this in mind, most people wouldn’t have a problem talking about Versailles, because the chances are they’ve heard it pronounced hundreds of times before thanks to its palace and the treaty named after it. 
 
But first timers would be forgiven for pronouncing it “Ver-saylz” given there’s two letters Ls in there. The real pronunciation is more like “Ver-sye”.

 
3. Angers 
 

(Photo: Joanna Kopp/Flickr)
 
This is a rare example of a French town that's also a word in English. Angers. He angers me. Another example would be the village of Condom in south western France. 
 
But anyway, if you pronounce this town like the verb “angers” or even like a rhyme for hangers, then you'll only be met with blank stares. 
 
Ask for “on-zhay” and you're in for a chance – or watch the video below.
 

 
 
4. Nancy
 

(Central Nancy. Photo: Juergen Adolph/Flickr)
 
You’d be very easily forgiven for thinking this town shares its pronunciation with the wife of the former US president Ronald Reagan, the current US Speaker of the House of Representatives, or anyone called Nancy for that matter.
 
But there’s a subtle and important difference. This town in eastern France is pronounced more like “Non-cee”. Still having trouble? Imagine the French word for No followed by the Spanish word for Yes and you're getting close.

 
5. Orléans
 
(The Place du Châtelet in Orléans. Photo: DrMartinus/Flickr)
 
You've all heard of New Orleans in the US (Noo Orrrrrrrleeeeens), but did you realise that it's actually named after a French town? But more to the point, can you pronounce it properly?
 
If not – a word of warning: Never ask a French train conductor for Orleeeeens, ask for “ohr-lay-ON”.

 
6. Troyes
 

(The Troyes historic quarter. Photo: WikiCommons)

 
If you have ever visited this town that stands on the river Seine, around 150km south east of Paris, the chances are pronounced it at first like a place in ancient Greece.
 
It may look just like Troy with an S but actually, it’s pronounced Twah or – to make it easier – just say the number three in French – trois. It's basically the same. 

 
7. Auch
 

(The Auch Cathedral. Photo: Silja Rindom/Flickr)
 
Wouldn't it be fantastic if the town of Auch was pronounced like the sound you make when you step on a Lego brick in bare feet?
 
Alas, the name of this extremely old Roman town in the south west of France is pronounced more like Ohsh. 
 
8. Quimper
 

(Photo: TJ Morton/Flickr)
 
You'd be forgiven for thinking this Brittany town was pronounced “kwim-pa”, like a mix between quick and whimper. But no. It's more like “Carm-pair”. In fact, if you blend the word “camper” and “compare” you've pretty much got it.
 

 
9. Rouen
 

(Photo: Thomas Hammoudi/Flickr)
 
A reader once told us that the word “Rouen” is hard to pronounce “unless you're a goose”.  But this town in northern France is pronounced more like rroo-ahn.
 
And if you're still stuck, don't worry. One of our Facebook followers, Onürb Öhn, is a Frenchman who describes himself as “nearly Rouen native” – but he says that the town's name “is still a mystery for me to pronounce… rouan, wran, roin, roan, rouen”.

 
10. Caen
 
 
There is a double dilemma when it comes to pronouncing the Normandy town of Caen. Firstly many people would simply pronounce it like it was written “Carn” when it should be pronounced more like “Kah”.
 
The problem is if you get it wrong you could end up insulting a local because the correct pronunciation of Caen sounds very much like the way the French say “Con” which means anything from jerk to dickhead.
 
In some ways it might be better to pronounce it “Carrrrrn” just so you don't insult anyone.

 
 

Member comments

  1. Perhaps time for an article on how to recognise words whose letter sequences require one to nasalise one or more of the vowels?

  2. What about “Cannes”? OK, it’s probably one of the easier ones, but still, not a lot of people know to say “Can”.
    Another one is “Antibes”, which should be pronounced “Antib” (with a soft b).

  3. I’ve had problems with some of these – thanks for clarifying Auch. I was surprised not to find St Quentin on the list.

  4. I defy anyone to be able to pronounce Royan correctly. I’ve tried for ten years and still I get a smile, sometimes even a grin… people born there, Swiss French, Poitiers natives and Bretons all say it a different way ….the best I’ve managed is by rolling the R in the back of the throat…RRRRwhaee-ee-yyonnn – doubling the pronunciation of the Y seems to help…..

  5. Look out for the city of NIORT in the mid-west, pronounced Nyaw with the ‘ny’ rolled together and pronounced as you would pronounce the ‘ny’ in ‘canyon’.

  6. @Miriam Libicki Wikipedia says Aix is pronounced ‘Eks’ but I recall The Horseman on the Roof and Juliette Binoche saying ‘Ay-EE-ks’. Who are we to argue with La Belle Binoche? There’s a small town to the North of Sheffield called Penistone. A local band a few years ago, Don Valley and the Rother Hides, called their publishing company Penis Tone Music.

  7. I knew or could guess most of these (also p.s. anyone from Louisiana will tell you Noo-or-LEENZ is not at all how it’s pronounced), but I still don’t know how to say “Aix.”

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