As a learner of the French language, you may have come across words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. These words are known as homophones and can be confusing when trying to understand and communicate in French.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most common French homophones. We’ll begin by introducing some frequent homophones in French and then offer tips on how to distinguish them in spoken and written French.
French Grammar: What are Homophones?
Have you ever heard a word in French, and felt so confused because the word simply didn’t fit the context?
It took you a while to understand that the speaker is not all crazy and that he/she is simply referring to something else.
In many cases, the reason for such confusion is French homophones, which are one of the most common problems for French learners.
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. They can be a source of confusion or amusement in any language, and French is no exception.
In fact, French is known for having many homophones, thanks to its complex system of spelling and pronunciation.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most common French homophones, including tricky pairs like son and sont or ce and se, and offer some tips on how to distinguish them in spoken and written French.
Homophones in French: Words that Sound Identical
Here you’ll get an extensive list of the most common French homophones.
Sometimes, more than two words can be a homophone pair in French. Here, we have 3 different words, that sound the same, with different spellings and meanings.
La mer/le maire/la mère
- la mer — the sea
- le maire – the mayor
- la mère – mother
Nous avons passé nos vacances à la mer.
We spent our holiday at the seaside.
Il s’adressa au maire.
He addressed himself to the mayor.
Elle ressemble à sa mère.
She takes after her mother.
Un auteur/ Une hauteur
- un auteur — an author
- une hauteur — a height
Quel est votre auteur favori ?
Who is your favorite author?
Quelle hauteur a le mont Fuji ?
How high is Mt. Fuji?
Many English speakers often get caught out by the silent ‘h’, so it’s important to be mindful of it.
La Tour/ Le Tour
- la tour — tower
- le tour — turn, perimeter
As-tu visité la Tour de Londres ?
Did you visit the Tower of London?
Il a fait un tour d’Europe.
He made a tour of Europe.
There are times when even the spelling is the same, but the genre makes all the difference. You can determine the meaning, by paying attention to its genre.
- le verre — glass
- vert — green
- vers — towards
While these three French words may sound alike, they differ in their spelling and grammatical function. If you note that the first word is a noun, the second one an adjective, and the third one a preposition, it will make it relatively easy to tell them apart. In fact, there is a well-known French tongue twister that uses these three homophones: Le ver vert va vers le verre vert.
Remplis un verre d’eau.
Fill a glass with water.
Le feu est au vert.
A green light is on.
Elle tira la chaise vers elle.
She drew the chair towards her.
La tante/la tente
- la tante — aunt
- la tente — tent
Imagine, you are somewhere outside camping, and someone asks you to bring your tente. If you are just a beginner in French, and you only know about the word la tante, you can get confused a big time. It’s the kind of situation where the context comes to the rescue.
Ma tante a trois enfants.
My aunt has three children.
Nous avons planté la tente près de la rivière.
We pitched the tent next to the river.
- Au (contracted definite article, masculine) – in
- Aux ( contracted definite article, masculine, plural) – in
- L’eau – water
The contracted definite article in the masculine genre, both singular and plural sound the same, even though the spelling is different. One thing to note is that aux, when placed in front of the word that begins with a vowel, leads to liaison, or the “z’ is pronounced.
Il est au magasin.
He is at the store.
Ils sont aux États-Unis.
They are in the United States.
Il y a de l’eau dans le réservoir.
There is water in the tank.
Learn more about French Preposition : au, à la, à l’, aux
La paie/la paix
- La paie – pay
- La paix – peace
Ce boulot ne paie pas.
This work doesn’t pay.
Je souhaite la paix dans le monde entier.
I wish peace in the entire world.
- Cent – one hundred
- Sang – blood
- Sens – feel (3rd person Singular)
- Sans – without
Cent dollars, ce n’est rien.
One hundred dollars is not nothing.
Il a ça dans le sang.
It’s in his blood.
Je sens que je suis libre.
I feel that I am free.
Sans mon conseil, tu aurais échoué.
Without my advice, you would have failed.
La foi/Le foie/La fois
- La foi – faith
- Le foie – liver or spread
- Une fois – once
La foi soulève les montagnes.
Faith can move mountains.
J’adore manger le foie gras.
I love to eat foie gras.
Faites-le une seconde fois.
Do it a second time.
- leur – their
- l’heure – hour
Tu peux leur faire confiance.
You can trust them.
Elle reviendra dans une heure.
She will return within an hour.
- aussi tôt — too early, as soon (as possible)
- aussitôt — immediately
J’ai fini de travailler, aussi tôt je vais rentrer chez moi.
I finished work, so I will go home right away
Aussitôt qu’il a entendu le bruit, il est sorti de la pièce.
As soon as he heard the noise, he left the room.
- plus tôt — earlier
- plûtot — rather
Much like the homophones aussi tôt and aussitôt, this is another pair that you may not have been distinguishing between. There is more of a spelling difference here, though, and while they may be difficult to distinguish in a listening comprehension situation, plus tôt is a direct translation to “more early” or “earlier,” whereas plutôt is missing the s and becomes its own special little word for “rather.”
Je voudrais partir plus tôt plûtot qu’arriver plus tard.
I would like to leave earlier rather than arrive late.
Je suis plutôt content.
I’m rather happy” or I’m quite happy.
Je vais arriver plus tôt que prévu.
I’m going to arrive earlier than expected.”
- guère — hardly
- la guerre — war
There is nothing better than a homophone where one word is a noun while the other is not. Just kidding. 😀
Guère is an adverb that means “hardly” or “barely” and it comes in handy especially when reading in French. La guerre isn’t really at risk of being confused with the similar-sounding adverb, but hey, you just got a useful vocabulary word out of this!
Ce n’était guère une guerre.
It was hardly a war.
Je ne sais guère.
I hardly know.. or I barely know.
Pendant la guerre, beaucoup de personnes ont souffert.
During the war, many people suffered.
How to Distinguish Homophones in Written French
In written French, homophones can be distinguished by paying attention to spelling and accents.
For example, a (verb avoir) and à (preposition) are distinguished by the presence or absence of an accent.
Another way to differentiate homophones in French is by understanding the grammatical connection between the words.
The homophones ce and se in French are often confused because they sound the same but have different meanings and functions:
- Ce is a demonstrative adjective that means “this” or “that” in English. It’s important to know that this word agrees in gender and number with the noun it modifies and that it comes in different forms (ce, cet, cette, ces, cettes)
Ce livre est intéressant.
This book is interesting.
Ces chaussures sont confortables.
These shoes are comfortable.
- Se is a reflexive pronoun that indicates that the subject of the verb is also the object of the verb, performing an action on themselves. It can also be used as a particle in certain pronominal verbs.
Il se lave les mains.
He is washing his hands.
Elle se plaint tout le temps.
She complains all the time.
Read the If you are interested in learning the Difference between ‘ce’ and ‘se’ in French
Sont and son are two very often confused homophones in French that have different meanings.
- Sont is the third-person plural form of the verb être (to be).
Ils sont venus me rendre visite hier soir.
They came to visit me last night.
- Son is a possessive adjective that means “his” or “her” in English.
J’aime beaucoup son nouveau sac à dos.
I really like his/her new backpack.
Learning the rules of grammar and syntax can also help learners differentiate between homophones, by understanding how they are used in context.
French Words that Sound the Same
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner of French, mastering French homophones can help you communicate more effectively and avoid embarrassing mistakes.
Even though, we believe making mistakes is an essential part of your French journey.
It’s time to learn more about French pronunciation.