The Vocab Inception Series is back! Using photos within photos to showcase one word, let’s take a multilayered approach to French vocabulary. Today’s word is a fun one: le poisson, or fish. ?
Le poisson Fish
Ahh, le poisson. Masculine, with a double S… and the indisputable poster child for lessons on the S and SS sounds!
Le Double S — The Double S
In my first Vocab Inception post, I talked about how l’accent circonflexe often represents an S that disappeared over time. Today, let’s look at another S-related phenomenon: the double S!
When you encounter today’s word, le poisson, it’s important to note the double S and pronounce it correctly. Poisson is pronounced [pwasɔ̃] with an S sound. (That’s roughly “pwah-soh(n)” in non-IPA letters.)
⚠️ This is in contrast to le poison (meaning poison ☠ ), which is pronounced [pwazɔ̃] or “pwah-zoh(n)”, with a Z sound.
Now, obviously, the two words mean very different things. And, if you mispronounce them, you can see how they could turn your amazing attempt at a Provençal fish stew into a round of raised eyebrows and nervous smiles at the dinner table! (By the way, that stew, la bouillabaisse, is another word with a double S that you really want to pronounce correctly!)
It’s all pretty funny, but this is why teachers insist on the difference between S and SS!
Other Problematic Pairsssss…
Here are a few more word pairs that require care:
Key: Masculine Noun / Feminine Noun
le cousin = male cousin
le coussin = cushion
la ruse = ruse, trick
la Russe = Russian woman
Baiser = to f*ck
Baisser = to lower
* This is why you want to pronounce la bouillabaisse properly.
le désert = desert
le dessert = dessert
* Like in English, the difference between désert and dessert is reflected in both the spelling and pronunciation. However, in French, the only audible difference is the S vs. SS, because, unlike in English, these words are not differentiable by the stress on different syllables.
⭐ Fun Fact: In French, the stress is on the final audible syllable of a word or phrase. You won’t hear it at the beginning or in the middle of a French word, and this even distribution is partly what makes French so melodious!
So, how do you remember all this Double S business? One way is to put aside the fish for a moment and think of the SS as a hissing sound, like that made by un serpent or a snake. ?
Voici, un expert. Here’s an expert:
? You can also use this knowledge to help you remember the pronunciation differences between:
Ils sont = [il sɔ̃] = “They are”
Ils‿ont = [ilz‿ɔ̃] = “They have”
* The same applies to Elles sont and Elles ont.
Notice how the third-person plural conjugations of être (to be) have that second S. You want to associate this with the hissing S. However, the third-person plural conjugations of avoir (to have) only have one S and require la liaison, which forces a Z sound.
The Single S
Now, before you’re tempted to assume that a single S is always pronounced like a Z, take note of the following guidelines. (I won’t call them règles, or rules, because there are some exceptions!)
? It’s pronounced like a Z…
▪️ when it’s between vowels
Examples: le poison, la maison, le visage (face), le rose (the color pink)
▪️ when there’s a liaison
Examples: Ils‿ont and Elles‿ont. Les‿enfants (the children), des‿yeux (eyes), etc.
? It’s pronounced like an S…
▪️ when it’s the first letter of a word
Examples: le son (sound), le serpent (snake), or la sœur (sister)
▪️ when it’s followed by another consonant
Examples: la question, l’histoire (history)
▪️ when it’s the last letter of a word and happens to be pronounced (usually, the final S is silent!)
Examples: le bus, le fils (son), le cosmos
? And don’t forget: often, it’s not pronounced at all…
▪️ when it’s the last letter of a word
Examples: vous (you), trois (three), dans (in)
Fishy Variations on Le Poisson
But let’s get back to le poisson, or fish. What other vocabulary can we learn from it?
Key: Masculine Noun / Feminine Noun
l’arête de poisson = fish bone, spine
l’écaille de poisson = fish scale
la poissonnerie = fishmonger’s, store that sells fish
le poissonnier. / la poissonnière = fishmonger
le poisson-chat = catfish
le poisson-clown. = clownfish * Note: clown is pronounced [klun].
le poisson rouge = goldfish
les Poissons = Pisces (the zodiac sign and constellation)
poissonneux / poissonneuse (adj.) = full of fish
Poisson d’avril ! = April Fool!
Muet comme un poisson = A French expression meaning “silent as the grave” or extremely quiet.
A Little Bit of Fun
Need some earworms to help you remember le poisson?
Here’s a famous comptine (nursery rhyme) to sing along to:
And here’s something a little more upbeat:
• • •
Looking for MORE French vocabulary lessons?
Find all my posts on le vocabulaire right here! Packed with memorable graphics and designed to help you master those tricky noun genders, my lessons will make learning easier and show you the FUN in French!
© 2020 French à la folie.