Accentonyms

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

a | à

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

abonne | abonné

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

abrège | abrégé

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

acre | âcre

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

âge | âgé

âge (noun) – age
âgé (adjective) – old, aged

aie | aïe

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

après | âpres

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

arriéré | arrière

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

B

bailler | bâiller

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

bronze | bronzé

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

C

ça | çà

ça (indefinite demonstrative pronoun) – that, it
çà et là – 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
coté (adjective) – highly regarded / rated; past participle of coter (to quote, list, grade)
côte (noun) – rib, slope, coastline
côté (noun) – side

crêpe | crêpé

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

cure | curé

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

D

de | dé

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

des | dés | dès

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

différent | diffèrent

différent (adjective) – different
diffèrent – third person plural conjugation of différer (to differ): ils diffèrent

du | dû

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

E

-e | é

-echante, parle, travaille … (first and third person singular present tense of -er verbs): je chante, il parle, elle travaille
chanté, parlé, travaillé … (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 être (to be): tu es
èscontraction of en + les: licencié ès lettres (~ BA of Arts)

êtes | étés

êtes – second person plural present tense of être (to be): vous êtes
étés (plural noun) – summers

eut | eût

eut – third person singular passé simple of avoir (to have): il eut
eût – third person singular imperfect subjunctive of avoir: qu’il eût

F

ferme | fermé

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

fut | fût

fut – third person singular passé simple of être: il fut
fût – third person singular imperfect subjunctive of être: qu’il fût

G

gène | gêne | gêné

gène (noun) – gene
gêne (noun) – trouble, bother, embarrassment
gêné (adjective) – short of, embarrassed; past participle of gêner (to bother)

grade | gradé

grade – rank, degree
gradé – officer

H

haler | hâler

haler – to haul in
hâler – to tan

I

illustre | illustré

illustre – illustrious, renowned
illustré – illustrated

infecte | infecté

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

interne | interné

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

J

jeune | jeûne

jeune (adjective) – young
jeûne (noun) – fasting

juge | jugé

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

L

la | là

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

levé | lève

levé (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)

M

mais | maïs

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

marche | marché

marche (noun) – walking, step, stair
marché (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
mâtin
– hound

mémé | même

mémé (baby talk) – granny
même (adverb) – same

meuble | meublé

meuble (noun) – piece of furniture
meublé (adjective) – furnished

modelé | modèle

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

mur | mûr

mur (noun) – wall
mûr (adjective) – ripe

N

ne | né

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

notre | nôtre

notre (possessive adjective) – our
nôtre (possessive pronoun) – ours

nuance | nuancé

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

O

ou | où

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

P

pale | palé | pâle

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

pâte | pâté

pâte – pastry, paste
pâté – pâté, chopped liver

péché | pêche

péché (noun) – sin; past participle of pécher (to sin)
pêche (noun) – peach, fishing
pêchépast participle of pêcher (to fish)

pécher | pêcher

pécher – to sin
pêcher – to fish; peach tree

pécheur | pêcheur

pécheur – sinner
pêcheur – fisherman

prête | prêté

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

R

rate | raté

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

relâche | relâché

relâche (noun) – rest, respite
relâché (adjective) – loose, lax

reste | resté

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

retraite | retraité

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

roder | rôder

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

rot | rôt

rot (noun) – belch, burp; vine rot
rôt (archaic noun) – roast

roue | roué

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

roule | roulé

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

S

sale | salé

sale – dirty
salé – salty

sinistre | sinistré

sinistre (adjective) – gloomy, sinister
sinistré (adjective) – stricken, devastated

un sinistre – accident, disaster, damage
un sinistré – disaster victim

sublime | sublimé

sublime – sublime
sublimé – sublimated, screen-printed

suicide | suicidé

suicide – suicide
suicidé – suicide victim

sur | sûr

sur (preposition) – on
sûr (adjective) – sure

T

tache | taché | tâche | tâché

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

V

valide | validé

valide – able-bodied, fit, valid
validé – validated

vide | vidé

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

votre | vôtre

votre (possessive adjective) – your
vôtre (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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