Why do Americans not pronounce the word Versailles (vər-ˈsī) as the French do? Specifically, I wish to know why the "lles" in Versailles (vər-ˈsī) is not pronounced in American English.

If you listen to a French person pronounce it then you'll hear them end the word with "yeh" (ver - sigh - yeh), and this is because of the ll which is pronounced like an English y.

  • 7
    Almost no-one outside France pronounces French words as the French do; particularly not Versailles, which is much more difficult than, for instance, Paris. America has hundreds of accents, many of which pronounce French place names as differently from each other as from the French, Come to that, France has many accents… Sep 19 '17 at 17:37
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    It depends on which Americans you're talking about. This article from Crain's Chicago Business reports that U.S. Midwesterners typically pronounce the name of the town Versailles, Indiana, "ver-SALES."
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 19 '17 at 18:04
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    I think the standard British pronunciation is much the same as the American, but without the "r". Oxford shows it as /vɛːˈsʌɪ/. Most people anglicise foreign place names to one extent or another, often without realising it. Some get changed more than others (we also pronounce an "s" on the end of "Paris", while the French change "London" and "Dover" into "Londres" and Douvres"), but even those that keep the same general form are likely to be naturalised a bit. And similarly if the French refer (esp in French) to "Manchester" or "Liverpool", they are likely to do so in a French accent.
    – rjpond
    Sep 19 '17 at 18:52
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    I speak French, and in French it only has two syllables (rhymes with try). You will hear that "yeh" sound if you continue on with the right word, e.g. Versailles et Paris. In English, typically it's pronounced the same as the French do except we do not use the uvular R as the French do. Sep 19 '17 at 22:46
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    Why do so many Frenchmen mispronounce the name of the US city "Louisville"?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 19 '17 at 23:55

What you are hearing in French is the /j/ glide. You can hear it on forvo.com in the words travail /tʁa.vaj/, Versailles /vɛʁ.saj/, as well as many others. Listening to these pronunciations, I hear some French speakers pronouncing it so it sounds like it rhymes with tie, and others pronouncing it so it sounds like it has an extra "yeh" at the end. French speakers are probably not going to hear the difference between these two pronunciations unless they listen for it.

This /j/ glide is not an English phoneme that can occur at the end of a word.

Americans generally pronounce foreign words with English phonemes (this is the reason that we often pronounce Bach with a /k/ and Goethe with a /ɜr/). The English pronunciation /vɛrˈsaɪ/ is as close as you can come to the French pronunciation with English phonemes. You certainly don't want to pronounce Versailles so it rhymes with (say) messiah, as that would sound worse to both the French and Americans.


If you are from Versailles in the state of Indiana you would say ver sails. A whole nother interesting topic (eg Paris in Kentucky, Lima in Ohio). Based on personal experience.

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