ah-tee-kaw-stee-tew-syuh-nel-luh-mah. Click below to hear this!
I doubt if you’re going to have daily need of this word, unless you are a political scientist or perhaps a political journalist. But its relative uselessness doesn’t make it any less fun to know!
That’s because this is the longest word in the French language.
If you’re going to learn this word, however, you’re going to have to master a basic principle of French pronunciation. Call it the Metronome Rule, if you like, or the One-Two-Three Rule. Call it whatever you want, but master it, if you want to sound like a native speaker of French.
Here’s the rule: Every syllable of a French word receives equal weight and equal duration. Never mind the exceptions for now (of course there are exceptions! Aren’t there always?), and focus on the principle.
This is difficult for English speakers. Think of photo, photograph, photographer, photographic. Social, sociology, sociological. Extract (verb) and extract (noun). And so on.
Now try this: drum with your fingers on the edge of the table, while you count: un-deux-trois, un-deux-trois. When you have established the rhythm, as even as a metronome, add any three-syllable French word you wish. Un-deux-trois-é-lé-gant. Maintain the same rhythm. Un-deux-trois-é-lé-phant. Un-deux-trois-ma-gni-fique. Un-deux-trois-ex-ce-(l)lent.
Add a syllable: Un-deux-trois-quatre-con-sti-tu-tion. Un-deux-trois-quatre-cinq-con-sti-tu-tio-(n)nelle.
To add -ment to the end, you will need to count seven syllables: con-sti-tu-tio-(n)ne-(l)le-ment. And nine for the whole word, when you add back the anti-.
See how that works? The metronome keeps ticking, fast or slowly, but always evenly. The orchestra conductor–that’s you–decides when to ignore the metronome for stylistic reasons.
By the way, note that I’m placing the first of a pair of doubled consonants in parentheses, like this: ex-ce-(l)lent. That’s because you need the doubled letter in spelling, but you are only pronouncing it once. Correct syllabication would be ex-cel-lent, but visually that may invite pronunciation errors, by tempting you to pronounce the /l/ in syllable two instead of syllable three.
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