You probably came away from your first ever French class with the knowledge that the French word dix is the number ten. You probably learnt to count to ten, and pronounced dix "diss", a bit like a rhyme with English "geese".
You may not be aware of how the final sound of dix actually changes its pronunciation depending on the following word.
Just as in English, numbers in French can be used in a couple of ways:
(a) the "thing being counted" can directly follow the number;
(b) they can be used in isolation, or in such a way that the thing being counted doesn't directly follow the number.
Examples of case (a) would be:
I've got ten books in my bag.
There are ten others here.
It costs ten Euros.
Examples of case (b) would be:
How many do you need? Ten.
There are ten in the bag.
There are ten or eleven of them.
Notice how in these last sentences, you're not actually counting "in the bag"s or "or eleven"s.
Now, the pronunciation of the word dix actually depends on whether you're using it as in case (a) or case (b), and, in case (a), it depends on the following word.
In case (a), the final sound of dix is:
- not pronounced at all if the following word begins with a consonant: so in di(x) personnes, the -x isn't actually pronounced (nor is the final -s of personnes, of course); similarly dix francs is pronounced di' franc' with neither -x nor -s pronounced;
- pronounced as a z sound if the following word begins with a vowel: so dix autres is pronounced di-z-autre(s); dix heures is pronounced di-z-heure(s).
In case (b), the final sound of dix is an [s] sound, as your probably used to pronouncing the word in counting or in isolation. So, the word is pronounced "diss" (in phonetic transcription, we'd write [dis]) in the following cases:
Il y en a dix.
There are ten (of them).
Dix ou onze fois.
Ten or eleven times.
Dix pour cent.
Ten per cent.
Le dix mai/octobre.
The tenth of May/October.
If you've come across so called h aspiré words (see last weeks post on haut), you'll note that before these, dix acts as though the word begins with a consonant. So many speakers at least would pronounce di(x) haricots, di(x) Hollandais without pronouncing the -x. Note the difference between:
("ten eights"-- huit acts as an h aspiré word; the -x isn't pronounced)
("ten oysters"-- huitre isn't an h aspiré word; the -x is pronounced)
The number six behaves in a similar way to dix.