Update - Having discussed the subject with my colleagues at Kwiziq and with some teachers in France, I reiterate that for the majority of France, the 'devrai' and 'devrais' will be pronounced exactly the same.
Take a look at a reference to a study included in this link (an awful load of adverts but the map is particularly relevant ).
Now that doesn't mean that the 'ai/ais' will not be pronounced differently in different parts of the country.
e.g. in the south of France, it will be an -é of bébé for both, in la région parisienne it will be the è of 'lait'.
The importance here to go back to Laurie's original question is how to make sure you convey the right meaning and this is what happens in practice -
We tend to avoid using 'devrai' in the future and use for instance 'falloir' :
Il faudra que je parte à 14 heures = I will have to leave at 2 pm
Il va falloir que je parte ...= I am going to have to leave ...
or even -
on devra se quitter à 14 h
Here, by changing the pronoun you eliminate the problem/ confusion which is with only the first person singular je.
Unfortunately, the verb 'falloir' is followed by the subjunctive, but this is preferable to confusion.
Hope this satisfies everybody, good conversation!
Devrai -- think of the English word "bear" and how you would pronounce it.
Devrais -- think of the English word "bed" and how you would pronounce it.
It's very subtle -- try it and you will understand.
This pronunciation approach has application across many similar verb endings in French not just future and conditional conjugations.
The answer is context, and that it’s not always easy.
Any difference in pronunciation is too slight to detect at full native speed anyway for all except the most attuned. I have recently read from a native speaker French teacher that after 25 years or more in the field, she had never been aware that there was supposed to be a difference at all!
As devrai ( future) and devrais (conditional) are pronounced exactly the same (the -s being silent) the only way you will know which tense it is will be from the context.
I am pretty sure you will know easily whether this is an action that will happen rather than may happen.
Hope this helps!
Cécile, there may be regional differences but as my wife is a native French speaker taught in France, I can assure you she was taught a difference in pronunciation and enunciates them slightly differently even today. This is described as being the case on other sites also.
Oh, and there is this site that says the same :
However, in modern pronunciation this is indistinguishable to most of us! So, Jim is quite correct to note the potential for a subtle difference.
We do agree that context is most important, however.
Hi Maarten and Cécile,
On reflection perhaps my input would be most applicable to the imparfait / plus-que-parfait endings ais/t.
I have received this advice in the past from my french-speaking son-in-law who has lived in Saint Gaudens in the Midi Pyrenees for 20 years.
Thanks Jim - not sure about your suggested ways of pronouncing them differently, but the fact that there can be a difference in pronunciation of the conditional and the future je conjugation remains correct, as per a number of references. My wife, having learned this difference can discern it. I certainly can’t, except when she gives me a deliberate demonstration.
Hence back to context - and there the reference from Camille at French Today also gives a more nuanced and expansive discussion of determining whether ‘will’ or ‘would’ is indicated to an English speaker, as this is not always easy either, especially “on the fly”.
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