Often-Confused French Words: Paronyms

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

Affectif/Effectif

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.

Collision/Collusion

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.

Confirmer/Infirmer

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.

Décade/Décennie

*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

Éminent/Imminent

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.

Éruption/Irruption

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.

Lacune/Lagune

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.

Prodige/Prodigue

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.

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.

4.Confirmer/Infirmer

Je vais ___________ ma participation au concours.

5. Décade/décennie*

La ___________ des années 80 fut particulièrement paisible.

6.Prodige/prodigue

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 ___________.

Answer Key

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

This post is part of the series: 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