List of French Minimal Pairs

EDIT: If you’re just interested in the list of French Minimal pairs, you can go straight there at my new site MinimalPairs.net.


I’m in the early stages of learning French. I recently read Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to learn a language. One of the suggestions it makes is to spend some of your early time, before diving into vocabulary, on some ear training, to learn to distinguish between the new sounds in your target language. One way to do this is by studying “minimal pairs”–that is, words which sound the same, except for one, or sometimes two subtle sounds. Some common examples in English, which are usually difficult for English learners to master, are:

  • Sheep and Ship
  • Kiss and Keys
  • Beach and Bitch
  • Hungry and Angry

So in my quest to find French Minimal pairs, I decided to throw some computer programming skills at the problem. The result is a list of 2921 minimal pairs EDIT: 1666 minimal pairs in the French language.

I took the top 10,000 words in the French language from Wikipedia, transcribed the words to the International Phonetic Alphabet with the help of the eSpeak software, then used my script to compare each pronunciation in the list with every other pronunciation in the list, and generate a list of words which match, except for one sound.

There is no doubt a lot of room for improvement. If you are the hacking type, please feel free to use and tweak my scripts (they aren’t pretty!) to accomplish your own tricks. The scripts are available on GitHub.

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for the minimal pairs – you’re a genius. I am also doing French based on Fluent Forever but not quite as clever on the computer!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I improved (or tried at least) my English pronunciation with minimal pairs. I think this list will do the same with French. I pasted it to Excel to better manipulate the different sounds and words.

  3. Hey thanks very much, but I think there’s a problem with this list:

    The list is sorted by the common-sound. But minimal-pairs are used to train hearing the difference between sounds. So, what we want isn’t a *single sound* that is shared between words, but word-pairs that only differ with respect to a particular *sound-pair* that is difficult to hear.

    For instance, the French vowels ou /u/ and u /y/ are hard to hear for some, so the word-pair vous /vu/ and vue /vy/ differentiates them. To find this pair in your list, we’d have to look through every entry seeing if it contained both /u/ and /y/, having no idea “v” would contain this match. See what I mean?

  4. Thanks for your comment. I think you’ve misinterpreted the list. Words are grouped by their common phenomes, yes. But in your example, the common phenome between vous and vue is /v/. So if you look for /v/ in the list, you will indeed see both of those words (and a large number of others), which share the /v/ sound, but differ in some other sound.

  5. Sorry, I don’t think I explained well enough. I’ll give an example:

    I’m trying to hear the difference between /u/ and /y/. I’m a beginner at the language, so can’t think of any word pairs that are the same except for this sound. Ideally, I need a reference of sound-pairs to words, letting me look up “/u/ and /y/”, and getting a list containing pairs such as “vous and vue.”

    In the current list, there’s no way for me to know what to look up to find pairs containing /u/ and /y/. I have to methodically look through every entry one-by-one, comparing each word in the entry to one another, hoping to find a match.

  6. Now I understand what you’re trying to do.

    I’ll give some thought to the problem, and if I come up with a way of addressing it, I’ll be sure to post about it here.

  7. Pingback: My new project: MinimalPairs.net - Verbally Flimzy

  8. Since I’ve created the much more manegeably-sized list at [minimalpairs.net](http://minimalpairs.net/), I haven’t put much additional thought into searchability. The new list is organized by phoneme pairs, too, which should make browsing much easier.

    But I’m always open to new suggestions and ideas! How would you like to be able to search the list?

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