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Look at the illustration below. Have you already been in such an embarrassing situation of misunderstanding?
In this situation of communication, Alex is referring to making the accounts while Lin was referring to making tales. You will agree that this happens in most languages.
To me, it often happens when listening in English. First, I will first find the sentence weird and then it will take me some time to digest and understand it.
So, you must already know that there are tons of homophones in the French language. They all sound the same but have different meanings. Knowing their context of use will help you differentiate them and get you ready to use them. Today we will focus on the most common French homophones you need to know.
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What are in fact homophones?
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. When they are written the same way, they are called homographs. Homophones and homographs are all categorized in the big family of homonyms. For example cent (one hundred), sans (without), sang (blood).
Why is it important to learn French homophones?
The French language has the particularity of having lots of homophones. As we have seen in the illustration on top of this post, they may lead to some miscommunication. For instance, Alex was saying to Lin that they should make the accounts. But she understood he was telling them to make tales. And she reacted by saying that they were no more kids. So, one will be saying something and the other will be understanding something else. In this example, it was quite funny. But in some other circumstances, the consequences might be more serious.
Learning the common French homophones will save you from these kinds of embarrassing situations, and will improve your oral understanding of French.
I've selected some of the homophones that you might regularly encounter. Our focus will be on the "homophones lexicaux" and not the "homophones grammaticaux" that might be discussed in another post.
Below is their list, with an explanation of each of them and examples of sentences. In the end, you have a practice quiz.
The homophones Danse and dense
Danse, danses or dansent are all pronounced the same way and are the conjugated form of the verb danser (to dance) in the present tense. Example: Le prince danse avec Cendrillon. => The prince is dancing with Cinderella.
Dense is an adjective that expresses something dense. Example: Cette forêt est très dense. This forest is very dense.
The homophones Dans, and la dent
Dans is a preposition that can be translated as “in”. Example: Les étudiants sont dans la classe. => The students are in the classroom.
La Dent is a body part, inside the mouth, the tooth. Example: Je me brosse les dents trois fois par jour. => I brush my teeth thrice a day.
The homophones La fin, and la faim
La fin is a noun indicating the end of something. Example: C'est bientôt les fêtes de fin d'année. => It is soon the end of year celebrations.
La fin can also mean the purpose, the finality. Example: Je me demande à quelles fins il lui a envoyé ce message. => I am wondering the reason why he sent her this message.
La faim is the fact of being hungry or left without food. La faim is translated as hunger in English. Example: La faim est un sérieux problème dans certains pays. => Hunger is a serious problem in some countries.
The homophones Loup and loue
Le loup is a wild animal, the wolf. Example: Le loup-garou est une légende. => The werewolf is a myth.
Loue/loues/louent are the conjugated form of the verb louer in French (to rent) which is an regular verb. Example: il loue un appartement au centre ville. He is renting an appartment in the city Center.
Loue/loues/louent can also represent the verb louer, to praise. Example: Je loue le Seigneur chaque jour. => I praise the Lord every day.
The homophones Tante, and tente
In French, la tante is a feminine word, representing a family member, the aunt. Ma tante habite au Japon. => My aunt lives in Japan.
La tente, is a word used when talking about camping; in English, it is said tent. Example: Je n’ai jamais dormi sous une tente. => I never slept under a tempt.
Tente is the conjugated form in present, imperative or subjunctive tense of the verb tenter which means to attempt. Tentes / tentent are also from the same verb and have the same pronounciation when used with the personal pronouns tu or ils/elles. Exemple: Il tente sa chance au loto. => He is taking his chance playing the lottery..
The homophones Ton and thon
The word ton can be a possessive adjective that is translated as your. Comment s’appelle ton frère? => What’s your brother’s name?
Le Ton can also be used for the tone of the voice or the way someone speaks. Exemple: Change de ton, si tu veux que je t’écoute. => Change your tone if you want me to listen to you.
Le thon is not to be mixed up with the previous homophones as it designates a sea animal, the tuna. Exemple: Je préfère la sardine au thon. => I prefer sardine compared to tuna.
The homophones cou, coup and coût
Le Cou is a masculine word representing a body part, the neck. Example: J'ai mal au cou. => My neck hurts
Un coup is the fact of hitting something. Example: Elle lui donne des coups de pied. => She is kicking him.
Le coût is a noun derivated from the verb coûter, to cost. Coût means cost. Example: Le coût des logements à Paris connaît une baisse. => Housing prices in Paris is dropping.
The homophones Sous, le sou, and saoul
Sous is a preposition place, translated in French as under. Example: Le chat est sous la table. => The cat is under the table.