Oh, Those Tricky French Homophones and Homonyms

Words that can easily get mixed up with each other are a thorn in the foreign language learner’s side. As much as we all know that they are a part of all languages, including our native language, they are annoying when we don’t have the context that native speakers have.

We have all experienced that embarrassing moment when we think we’re saying one thing but accidentally said something completely different. There is a fix for this: learning common homophones and homonyms.

What’s A Homophone? 

Homophones are specifically words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Some English examples are “knew” and “new”, “write” and “right”, and “two” and “too.”

Since French famously uses more silent consonants than English, they have a lot of them. If you’ve spent a lot of time on verb conjugations, you have probably already noticed that there are some that are spelled different but pronounced the same. 

What’s A Homonym? 

A homonym can refer to words that have the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings.

Some examples you probably know in English include bat the animal and bat the hitting instrument, tree bark and a dog’s bark, and kind as in type and kind as in caring and gentle. Some French homonyms are similar to English ones, for example, orange the color and orange the fruit are also the same in French. They are also the same word in both languages. 

Memorization Tips

The biggest part of avoiding mix-ups of similar words is building a robust French vocabulary. You won’t be able to avoid doing some straightforward memorization.

Flashcards, whether physical or digital, are a classic, tried and true method that works especially well for sets of homophones. It’s a good idea to make a set of cards specifically for homophones with the pair of words on one side and the definitions on the other. That way you memorize the difference in context.

If it helps, you can also highlight the spelling differences and draw pictures. French tongue twisters are a fun way to practice saying these words out loud.

Context Clues

How do you tell the difference in conversation between French words that sound the same?

The same way you do in your native language: context clues.

This is especially important for telling the difference between the singular and plural version of a noun by listening because the s at the end of words is typically silent.

Le, la, un, une…

If the article before the noun is le, la, un, une, or any other singular article, they are talking about one of the thing.

Les, des…

If the article is les, des, or any other plural article, they are talking about several of the thing.

English speakers often find the French level of subject-verb agreement and more frequent use of articles tedious, but they can help you out. 

A List of French Homophones

Here are some common and interesting homophones françaises. This list is by no means exhaustive, but includes words that are relevant for a typical intermediate-level French learner. Don’t feel obligated to memorize all of them at the same time. Start with the ones that trip you up the most.

A Third person singular present tense indicative conjugation of avoir (to have)
À (Preposition) To, at, in

Abaisse(s) Singular present tense indicative conjugations of abaisser (to lower)
Une abaisse A type of pastry

Une amande An almond
Une amende A fine

Un an A year
En (adverbial pronoun) of it/them
En (preposition) to, in

Au To the, masculine singular (à + le
Aux To the, plural ( à + les)
Eau Water

O Pronunciation of the letter
Oh Interjection

Un auteur An author
Une hauteur A height

Aussi tôt Too early
Aussitôt Immediately 

Un avocat A lawyer
Un avocat An avocado

La boue The mud
Le bout The tip

Ces These
C’est it/this is

Sais First person singular present tense conjugation indicative of savoir (to know)
Sait Third person singular present tense indicative conjugation of savoir
Ses Possessive, his/her/its for plural objects

Ça It, that as the object of the sentence
Sa Possessive, his/her/its for singular feminine objects

Cent One hundred
Sens First person singular present tense indicative conjugation of sensir (to feel
Sent Third person singular present tense indicative conjugation of sensir
Sang Blood
Sans Without

 

Censé Supposed to
Sensé Sensible

La chair Flesh
La chaire Pulpit, chair or head of an academic department
Cher Dear, expensive

Une chouette An owl
Chouette Cool

Un compte An account
Un comte A count (nobility)
Un conte A tale, a story

Le cou Neck
Le coup Blow, hit
Le coût Cost

La cour Yard, courtyard
Le cours Course

Court short
Le court The court

Le cygne Swan
Le signe Sign

Un dé Thimble, die
Des Some
Des Of the, from, the about the for plural objects (de + les)

Dans In
Une dent A tooth

Dégoûter To disgust
Dégoutter To drip

Un dessein A design, plan
Un dessin A drawing

Past participle ending for regular -er verbs
-er Ending of -er verb infinitives
-ez Ending for vous present tense indicative conjugations of regular -er verbs

Entre between
Entre(s) Singular present tense indicative conjugations of entrer (to enter)

Été Summer
Été Past participle of être

Une filtre A filter
Une philtre A potion

La foi Faith
Le foie Liver
Une fois A time

Guère Hardly
La Guerre War

Le Lac Lake
La Laque Hairspray or gloss

Leur Possessive pronoun
Une Leurre A delusion
L’heure The hour

La mer The sea
Le maire or La maire The mayor
La mère The mother

Un mur A wall
Mûr(e) ripe
Une mûre A blackberry

On One, we, people in general
Ont Third person singular conjugation of avoir (to be)
Ou Or
Where

La Paie Pay
La Paix Peace

Pair (adjective) even
Le pair peer
La paire pair
Le père father

Par by
Pars first and second person singular present tense indicative conjugation of partir (to leave)
Part third person singular present tense indicative conjugations of partir
une part a portion

Parti past participle of partir
Un parti a political party
Une partie a part or amount

Un Peu a little
Peux first and second person singular conjugation of pouvoir (to be able to)
Peut third person singular conjugation of pouvoir

Plus tôt earlier
Plutôt instead

Poids weight
Le Pois pea, dot
La Poix tar

Le poing first
Le point place, point

Le pouce thumb
La pousse sprout

Près close
Prêt ready

Quand When
Quant As for
Qu’en Contraction of que and en

Que What
Que That

Quel(le)(s) Which
Qu’elle(s) Contraction of que and elle

Air air as in appearance
une aire area, zone
une ère era

La reine Queen
Le renne Reindeer

La roue Wheel
Le roux Redhead

Sain Healthy
Saint Holy
Un saint Saint
Un sein Breast

Le sel Salt
La selle Saddle
Celle This one/That one

Si If
Six The number

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Soi Myself
Le soi The self
Sois First and second person singular subjunctive conjugation of être
La soie Silk

Soient Third person plural subjunctive conjugation of être
Soit Third person singular subjunctive conjugation of être

La Somme Sum, amount
Le Somme Snooze, nap

Son his, hers, its
Le son Sound
Sont Third person plural conjugation of être

Un sou Cent
Sous Under

Sur (adjective) sour
Sur (preposition) on
Sûr Sure

Ta Your
T’a Conjunction of te and a 

Tant So many/ So much
Le temps weather, time
T’en Conjunction of te and en
Tend(s) Singular conjugations of tendre (to hold)

Tes your
T’es Conjugation of te and es
T’est Conjugation of te an est

Le thon tuna
Ton Your
Le ton Tone
Tond(s) Singular present tense conjugations of tondre (to shear)
T’ont Conjunction of te and ont

La tour Tower
Le tour Turn

Tout all, everything
Le Toux Cough

Tu You, singular informal
Tu Past participle of se taire (to be quiet)
Tue(s) Singular present tense conjugations of tuer (to kill) 

Le Vin Wine
Vain Empty, superficial, vain
Vingt Twenty
Vins First and second person singular passé simple conjugations of venir (to come)
Vint Third person singular passé simple conjugations of venir (to come)

Vend Third person singular present tense conjugation of vendre (to sell)
Vends First and second person singular present tense conjugation of vendre (to sell)
Le vent The wind

Un ver A worm
Une verre A glass
Vers Towards
Un vers A verse
Vert Green

Voie First and third person singular subjunctive conjugation of voir (to see)
La voie The way, the route
Voient Third person plural present tense conjugation of voir
Vois First and second person singular present tense conjugation of voir
Voit Third person singular present tense conjugation of voir
La voix The voice

Vu Past participle of voir
Vu Given, considering
La Vue The sight   

Becoming A More Confident Francophone

Practicing these words will help you build your French vocab, understand conversational French better, and speak and write more confidently. For more tips and strategies, make a booking for French lessons or a French tutor

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