09 August 2011

Giboulées du mois d'août

Une giboulée is a sudden, brief, hard, and often chilly shower of rain or even sleet. Normally, in the north of France, people talk about les giboulées de mars — March showers — not the April showers we know in the United States.

Right now, our weather here in Saint-Aignan is weird and we are having giboulées du mois d'août. That's "(month of) August showers" — we had three or four yesterday in Saint-Aignan, not counting the one we got at midnight between Sunday and Monday, and another one late Monday night. Both the nighttime showers were hard enough to wake me up. The rain was splatting so loudly against the roof and the skylight windows that I couldn't ignore it. It didn't last long, though.

Yesterday's sunset at La Renaudière

Do you know how to pronounce the name of the month of August in French? The word is août. Traditionally the word is pronounced the same as the French words ou (or) and où (where), which are all more or less the vowel [oo] of "hoot" or "boot" — it's a rounder sound in French, not so drawn out as the English, but it is approximately [oo] — one vowel, no consonants.

The accent on the U has no real bearing on the pronunciation, by the way. Often, the presence of the circumflex accent (^) on French vowels indicates that an old S has been dropped from the word. In English, where we have retained a lot of French words with their ancient spelling, the S is still there. Août in English is August. Bête is beast. Côte is coast. Pâte is paste. And so on.

Even though the weather is not really summery,
the tomatoes are ripening.

But back to août. Often, you'll hear people say the word août pronounced as [oot]. Maybe that's because [oo], combined with the words for "the month of," becomes le mois d'août — [luh mwah DOO]. And that's exactly the same pronunciation as for le mois doux, which would mean the "mild" or "soft" or "sweet" month. It's kind of confusing. The pronunciation with the T, [oot], is less ambiguous.

And the bell peppers too...

The dictionary says the preferred pronunciation is [oo], but adds that more and more « couramment » — "in everyday language" — you hear people say [oot]. That's what I hear a lot. And sometimes, you'll hear people pronounce août as two syllables — the [ah] of English "father" plus the [oo] or [oot]. That pronunciation seems to be dying out. According to many, [oo] and [ah-oo] are starting to sound old-fashioned.

Août is the only one of the names of the months in French that has all this pronunciation stuff going on with it. Janvier, février, mars, avril, mai, juin, juillet, septembre, octobre, novembre, and décembre all have just one pronunciation each, with no exceptions or variants.


  1. Thanks for the explanation. We find the pronunciation of "aout" a tricky one to get right and now I understand about the circumflex ~ it all makes sense.

    It's nice to see the place looking a bit greener after a few showers, even thought the weather pattern is a bit strange.

  2. Jean, I wanted to write and tell you how good that red currant jelly you made is. I opened the jar yesterday morning and it was amazing. I like it on toast. It's not too sweet, which to me means it's really good. Thank you again for that.

  3. Ken, down here in Touraine du Sud a lot of older people seem to say "Aart" with a slight tinge of an East London/West Essex accent... but we got the "local" Almanac a few years ago, which had a selection of word, liberally spread throughout, in the original Touraine spelling and with the pronunciation.... there used to be a link from the OLD Grand Pressigny site to a page of local dialect words and phrases... but the NEW, all glissssten and flash version has dropped it! Shame!!

  4. Tim, are you using an R-less British pronunciation when you write "Aart"? I don't know how to interpret that spelling. There are dialects and patois everywhere, even in Touraine, where the French spoken is supposed to be the standard (I don't know about the Sud-Touraine — maybe it's different down there).

    As far as standard French pronunciation is concerned, the word août definitely has an [oo] syllable in it ([u] in the International Phonetic Alphabet) and that's the crucial part of the pronunciation. Whether you add a [t] at the end or an [ah] at the beginning doesn't matter much; all three or four pronunciations are acceptable and understood in standard French.

  5. I guess the two options are kind of like our English two options of pronouncing often: ofTen or oFFen. I do not pronounce the T, myself... it bugs me to hear it :))

    Love these posts about language, Ken, and great photos.


  6. As a French language teacher here in the United States, I found your post particularly interesting. Everyone in my family has always pronounced the "t" in aout. We are a Southern family. Not sure it makes a difference. It sounds strange to me when people don't. ;-) Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

  7. Hi Veronica, I think the pronunciation of août with the T is the trend going forward. I don't know if the pronounced T is regional — southern vs. northern — but maybe not.

    Judy, ofTen does sound more affected these days, doesn't it? Your oFFen is the way I say it too. The older ofTen — "older" is my opinion — sounds bookish to me. It's hard to compare the evolution of sounds and pronunciations across languages. In one language, the pronounced T seems to be gaining ground; in the other, it's losing out.

  8. The peppers look really good.

  9. I must be old-fashioned - I pronounce the "t" in often but I hazily can remember in speedy speech my saying offen as in "...yes, I offen visit that place." Perhaps I vacilate between the two choices because others are doing it as well???

    I, too, appreciate your french tutorials in pronunciation. The explanations are soooo fascinating.

    Mary in Oregon

  10. very nice blog,compliments from Tenerife!!!!

  11. Ken... The sound is slurred... possibly more like "aaht"... I don't know how to spell dialectically/phonically. The 'r' sound isn't rolled in the french style... in London it would also sound a bit like the way they say 'out'... the locals also mess around with "Au revoir" Sometimes saying it in full... other times "a'voir" and other times "au voir".

  12. I was taught at school to say 'ah-oo', but no one here seems to. They say 'oo' or 'oot' - it's about a 50/50 split I reckon.

  13. In my high school French class in Canada, I was taught to say "oo".

    Ken, I too appreciate the language lessons you give us. Thanks!

  14. France should have kept the Revolutionary Calendar.
    Unlike the word "août", there's only one way to pronounce "Thermidor".

  15. I think I was taught to say "oot" at school. I've never been corrected, even by a Parisian, on the rare occasions when I've had to use the word. Perhaps it's the long August holidays that allow the French the time to develop and debate different pronunciations for that month alone?


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