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French Language Help: Words That are Similar but Different

written by: Makoto • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/17/2012

Paronyms are words that are written almost the same but have different meanings. This article lists some commonly confused words in French from affectif and effectif to prodige and prodigue. The definition for each word is given as well as sample sentences of correct use.

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    Common French Paronyms

    Paronyms are words which are almost spelled the same (homonyms) but have different meanings.

    What follows is a list of common French paronyms one should be on the lookout for as they can easily be confused for one another. The words, their definitions and English translations are shown in the following format:

    Paronym #1: definition in English

    Sample sentence with word in use: English translation

    Paronym #2: definition in English

    Sample sentence with word in use: English translation

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    Affectif: related to emotions

    Difficultés affectives: Emotional difficulties

    Effectif: which really exists, really happens

    L’armistice est devenue effective ce matin: The armistice took effect this morning.

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    Collision: an accident when two vehicles crash into each other.

    La collision des voitures s’avera mortelle: The car crash turned out to be deadly.

    Collusion: a secret agreement which is harmful to others

    Ces deux policiers sont soupçonnés de collusion avec avec la Mafia: These two policemen are suspected of operating in collusion with the Mafia.

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    Confirmer: to show that something is definitely true

    Sa mort fut confirmée le matin suivant: Her death was confirmed the next morning.

    Infirmer: to invalidate

    Elle parvint à infirmer son hypothèse: She managed to invalidate his hypothesis.

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    *No sample sentences will be provided for this paronym as it is fairly straightforward.

    Décade: a period of tend days

    Décennie: a period of ten years

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    Éminent: remarkable

    Un éminent personnage: a remarkable character (individual)

    Imminent: about to happen

    L’effondrement du bâtiment est imminent: The building should collapse any moment now.

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    Éruption: sudden spurting or gushing

    Volcan en éruption: erupting volcano

    Irruption: sudden entrance of a person into a room

    Ils n’ont pas pu empêcher l’irruption des fans sur le terrain: They were unable to stop the fans from storming onto the field.

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    Lacune: gap

    La mémoire de ma mère Ma mémoire a des lacunes: The memory of my mother is full of gaps.

    Lagune: lagoon

    Elle s’est noyée dans cette lagune: She drowned in this lagoon.

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    Prodige: a wonderful event, a miracle.

    Le fait qu’il se soit rendu à cette ville avec une jambe cassée tient du prodige: It’s a miracle that he managed to get to this town despite his broken legs.

    Prodigue: someone who spends too much money, spends money unwisely (profligate).

    L’héritier prodigue gaspille son argent en achetant des voitures: The profligate son is wasting all his money on cars.

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    Review Exercise

    The time has come to review your understanding of the previously listed paronyms. In the following sentence, fill up the blank with the proper paronym.

    1. Affectif/Effectif

    Il devrait développer son côté ___________.

    2. Éruption/Irruption

    Il fit ___________ dans cette maison.

    3. Lacune/lagune

    Il y a plusieurs ___________ en français.


    Je vais ___________ ma participation au concours.

    5. Décade/décennie*

    La ___________ des années 80 fut particulièrement paisible.


    Marcher sur les eaux relève du ___________.

    7. Collision/collusion

    Il y a eu une ___________ sur l'autoroute.

    8. Éminent/imminent

    La conférence a été donnée par un professeur ___________.

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    Answer Key

    1. affectif
    2. irruption
    3. lacune
    4. confirmer
    5. décennie
    6. prodige
    7. collision
    8. éminent

French Homonyms and Paronyms

This short series provides examples, translations and review exercises about French Homonyms and Paronyms.
  1. Common French Homonyms and Paronyms
  2. French Language Help: Words That are Similar but Different