French accents matter

French accent homographs
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Some French accents offer pronunciation clues, others refer back to old spellings, and still others differentiate between otherwise identically spelled words. For all of these reasons, accents matter and must be included when writing (or typing) in French – even on capital letters and especially in the case of accentonyms: words that have different meanings with and without accents.* Here’s a glossary of some accentonyms to watch out for.


a | Ă 

a – third person singular present tense of avoir (to have): il a
Ă  (preposition) – at, to, in

abonne | abonné

abonne – first and third person singular present tense of abonner (to subscribe): j’abonne, il abonne
abonnĂ© (noun) – subscriber; past participle of abonner

abrège | abrégé

abrège – first and third person singular present tense of abrĂ©ger (to shorten, abridge): j’abrège, elle abrège
abrĂ©gĂ© (noun) – summary; past participle of abrĂ©ger

acre | âcre

acre (noun) – acre
âcre (adjective) – acrid, pungent

âge | âgé

âge (noun) – age
âgĂ© (adjective) – old, aged

aie | aĂŻe

aie – first person singular subjunctive and second person singular imperative of avoir (to have): que j’aie, (tu) aie
aĂŻe (interjection) – ouch

après | âpres

après (preposition, adverb) – after
âpres (plural adjective) – pungent, acrid

arriéré | arrière

arriĂ©rĂ© (adjective) – overdue, backward; (noun) backlog, arrears
arrière (noun) – back, stern, rear, aft


bailler | bâiller

bailler (archaic) – to give
bâiller – to yawn, gape

bronze | bronzé

bronze (noun) – bronze
bronzépast participle of bronzer (to tan, bronze)


ça | çà

ça (indefinite demonstrative pronoun) – that, it
çà et lĂ  – here and there

colle | collé

colle (noun) – glue; mock oral exam; detention
collépast participle of coller (to glue)

congres | congrès

congres (plural noun) – eels
congrès (noun) – conference, congress

cote | coté | côte | côté

cote (noun) – quotation, quoted value, rating
cotĂ© (adjective) – highly regarded / rated; past participle of coter (to quote, list, grade)
cĂ´te (noun) – rib, slope, coastline
cĂ´tĂ© (noun) – side

crêpe | crêpé

crĂŞpe (noun) – crepe (thin pancake), crepe paper
crêpépast participle of crêper (to backcomb, crimp)

cure | curé

cure (noun) – cure, treatment
curĂ© (noun) – priest; past participle of curer (to clean out)


de | dé

de (preposition) – of, from, about
dĂ© (noun) – thimble, die

des | dés | dès

des (indefinite article, partitive article) – some; contraction of preposition de + definite article les
dĂ©s (plural noun) – thimbles, dice
(preposition) – from (this point in time)

différent | diffèrent

diffĂ©rent (adjective) – different
diffèrent – third person plural conjugation of diffĂ©rer (to differ): ils diffèrent

du | dĂ»

ducontraction of preposition de + definite article le
dûpast participle of devoir (to have to)


-e | Ă©

-echante, parle, travaille … (first and third person singular present tense of -er verbs): je chante, il parle, elle travaille
-Ă©chantĂ©, parlĂ©, travaillĂ© … (past participle of -er verbs)

entre | entré

entre (preposition) – between
entrépast participle of entrer (to enter)

es | ès

es – second person singular present tense of ĂŞtre (to be): tu es
èscontraction of en + les: licencié ès lettres (~ BA of Arts)

êtes | étés

ĂŞtes – second person plural present tense of ĂŞtre (to be): vous ĂŞtes
Ă©tĂ©s (plural noun) – summers

eut | eût

eut – third person singular passĂ© simple of avoir (to have): il eut
eĂ»t – third person singular imperfect subjunctive of avoir: qu’il eĂ»t


ferme | fermé

ferme (noun) – farm
fermépast participle of fermer (to close)

fut | fût

fut – third person singular passĂ© simple of ĂŞtre: il fut
fĂ»t – third person singular imperfect subjunctive of ĂŞtre: qu’il fĂ»t


gène | gêne | gêné

gène (noun) – gene
gĂŞne (noun) – trouble, bother, embarrassment
gĂŞnĂ© (adjective) – short of, embarrassed; past participle of gĂŞner (to bother)

grade | gradé

grade – rank, degree
gradĂ© – officer


haler | hâler

haler – to haul in
hâler – to tan


illustre | illustré

illustre – illustrious, renowned
illustrĂ© – illustrated

infecte | infecté

infecte (fem adjective) – revolting, filthy, obnoxious
infectĂ© (adjective) – infected, contaminated

interne | interné

interne (adjective) internal, inner; (noun) boarder, intern
internĂ© (noun) – inmate (asylum), internee (politics)


jeune | jeûne

jeune (adjective) – young
jeĂ»ne (noun) – fasting

juge | jugé

juge (noun) – judge
jugépast participle of juger (to judge)


la | lĂ 

la (definite article) – the; (direct object pronoun) her, it
lĂ  (adverb) – there

levé | lève

levĂ© (noun) – survey; past participle of lever (to lift, raise)
lève – first and third person singular present tense of lever: je lève, elle lève

liquide | liquidé

liquide (noun) – liquid
liquidépast participle of liquider (to liquidate)


mais | maĂŻs

mais (conjunction) – but
maĂŻs (noun) – corn

marche | marché

marche (noun) – walking, step, stair
marchĂ© (noun) – market; past participle of marcher (to walk; to work)

masse | massé

masse (noun) – mass
massépast participle of masser (to assemble, mass)

mat | mât

mat (noun) – checkmate; (adjective) matte, dull
mât (noun) – mast, pole

mater | mâter

mater – to subdue
mâter – to mast

matin | mâtin

matin – morning
– hound

mémé | même

mĂ©mĂ© (baby talk) – granny
mĂŞme (adverb) – same

meuble | meublé

meuble (noun) – piece of furniture
meublĂ© (adjective) – furnished

modelé | modèle

modelĂ© (noun) – contours, relief; past participle of modeler (to model, shape)
modèle (noun) – model, design

mur | mûr

mur (noun) – wall
mĂ»r (adjective) – ripe


ne | né

ne ~ not (negative particle)
past participle of naître (to be born)

notre | nĂ´tre

notre (possessive adjective) – our
nĂ´tre (possessive pronoun) – ours

nuance | nuancé

nuance (noun) – shade, hue, nuance
nuancĂ© (adjective) – qualified, balanced, nuanced; past participle of nuancer (to shade, nuance)


ou | oĂą

ou (conjunction) – or
oĂą (adverb, pronoun) – where


pale | palé | pâle

pale (noun) – blade, paddle, pall
palĂ© (adjective) – paly (heraldry)
pâle (adjective) – pale, pallid

pâte | pâté

pâte – pastry, paste
pâtĂ© – pâtĂ©, chopped liver

péché | pêche

pĂ©chĂ© (noun) – sin; past participle of pĂ©cher (to sin)
pĂŞche (noun) – peach, fishing
pêchépast participle of pêcher (to fish)

pécher | pêcher

pĂ©cher – to sin
pĂŞcher – to fish; peach tree

pécheur | pêcheur

pĂ©cheur – sinner
pĂŞcheur – fisherman

prête | prêté

prĂŞte – (feminine adjective) ready
prêtépast participle of prêter (to lend)


rate | raté

rate (noun) – spleen
ratépast participle of rater (to fail, miss)

relâche | relâché

relâche (noun) – rest, respite
relâchĂ© (adjective) – loose, lax

reste | resté

reste (noun) – rest, remainder
restépast participle of rester (to stay)

retraite | retraité

retraite (noun) – retreat, retirement
retraitĂ© (noun) – retired person; past participle of retraiter (to reprocess)

roder | rĂ´der

roder – to break in, grind
– to roam, wander

rot | rĂ´t

rot (noun) – belch, burp; vine rot
rĂ´t (archaic noun) – roast

roue | roué

roue (noun) – wheel
rouĂ© (adjective) – cunning, sly; past participle of rouer (to beat, thrash)
rouĂ© (noun) – cunning/sly person

roule | roulé

roule – first and third person singular of rouler (to roll): je roule, il roule
roulĂ© (adjective) – curved, rolled; past participle of rouler


sale | salé

sale – dirty
salĂ© – salty

sinistre | sinistré

sinistre (adjective) – gloomy, sinister
sinistrĂ© (adjective) – stricken, devastated

un sinistre – accident, disaster, damage
un sinistrĂ© – disaster victim

sublime | sublimé

sublime – sublime
sublimĂ© – sublimated, screen-printed

suicide | suicidé

suicide – suicide
suicidĂ© – suicide victim

sur | sûr

sur (preposition) – on
sĂ»r (adjective) – sure


tache | taché | tâche | tâché

tache (noun) – mark, spot, stain
tachépast participle of tacher (to stain)
tâche (noun) – task
tâchépast participle of tâcher (to try)


valide | validé

valide – able-bodied, fit, valid
validĂ© – validated

vide | vidé

vide (adjective) – empty
vidĂ© (adjective) – worn out; past participle of vider (to empty)

votre | vĂ´tre

votre (possessive adjective) – your
vĂ´tre (possessive pronoun) – yours

 * When I first started putting together this list of word pairs (in about 2006), I created the term "accent homographs" to describe them, but I was never really happy with it. So I was delighted to discover the term "capitonyms" (words that have different meanings depending on capitalization), which inspired me to coin a term I much prefer to my original: accentonyms. You heard it here first!

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French accents

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