Common French Homonyms: Making Sense of it All

More Than Meets the Eye

A homonym, according to Oxford Advanced Learning Dictionary is:

a word that is spelt like another word (and may be pronounced like it) but which has a different meaning, […]

“Bat” is a good example of an English homonym, meaning at times a piece of wood used to play baseball and at other times the animal.

Homonyms are not to be confused with paronyms. Paronyms are words which are spelt or pronounced similarly while having very distinct meanings.

Vénéneux: containing a toxic substance.

Venimeux: containing venom.

Homonyms belong to either one of those two subcategories: homographs or homophones.


Some Common French Homonyms : Air [ɛR]

Let’s begin with a fairly common French homonym : aire [DY].

A. Air: noun, as in the gas. Sample sentence:

L’air est pollué dans cette ville.

The air is polluted in this city.

B. Air: noun, as in a tune.

J’aime bien cet air de violon.

I enjoy this violin tune.

C. Air: noun, as in someone’s expression, someone’s external attitude.

Il a l’air fatigué aujourd’hui.

He seems tired today.

D. Ère: noun, as in Era.

Je trouve l’Ère des Croisades très intéressante.

I find the Era of the Crusades to be very interesting.

E. Aire: noun, as in the amount of space covered by a flat surface (Area).

Cette pièce couvre une aire de 12 mètres.

This room is 12 meters square in area.

Some Common French Homonyms: maire [mɛR]

F. Maire: noun, as in the head of the government of a town or city (mayor).

Le maire de cette ville n’est pas très populaire.

The mayor of this town isn’t very popular.

G. Mer: noun, as in the salt water that covers most of the earth’s surface and surrounds its continents and islands (sea).

Il est disparu en mer il y a plusieurs jours.

He disappeared at sea many days ago.

H. Mère : noun, as in a female parent of a child or animal (mother).

Je sais qu’il aime sa mère.

I know he loves his mother.

Review Exercise

If you look at the previous sections, you’ll notice that every homonym has been assigned a letter from A to H, respectively.

There’s a blank in each one of the following eight sentences. Using the context, write down which homonym should be used.

1. La _____ est salée. On ne peut pas boire cet eau.

2. Je dois m’informer de l’____ couvert par ce terrain avant de l’acheter.

3. L’____ est frais ce matin. Il faudra s’habiller chaudement!

4. C’est ma ____ qui est malade. Ce sont mes soeurs qui s’occuperont d’elle.

5. J’aime bien cette musique. Cet ____ me dit quelque chose…

6. Je ne sais pas pour qui voter. Qui devrait donc être le _____ de la ville?

7. ____ des Empereurs est révolue depuis longtemps!

8. Il à l’____ triste aujourd’hui. Je me demande pourquoi…


1. G

2. E

3. A

4. H

5. B

6. F

7. D

8. C

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