Antoine Amarilli's blog

Non-homophonous homographs in French

— updated

In this post, I present a list of French words which are spelled the same but pronounced differently. This is, in a sense, the converse of the much more frequent phenomenon of non-homographic homophones. The list presented here are all the occurrences that I noticed in the Lexique database (minus some obvious errors); it turns out that more liberal lists exist (see for instance this list on the French Wiktionary). Actually, I really wonder what is the point of this list since it is tedious and not even complete, but I felt compelled to write it and had some time to waste, and now that it is done, I might as well publish it...

As it turns out, the phenomenon is surprisingly rare. Besides, it almost always occurs between words of different grammatical categories (except for "fils" and "plus" and some verbs), which means that grammatical context should help to disambiguate.

The reader should keep in mind that non-homophonous homographs are not the only way in which writing must be disambiguated when reading it. Another case is that of liaisons which give information about the grammatical structure of a noun phrase: for instance, "un acheteur de livres anglais" means "an English book buyer", ie. either "a buyer of English books" or "an English buyer who buys books": in the first case liaison should be made (zA~glE), whereas in the second case it cannot (A~glE) because liaison should not occur between a noun and an adjective unless they are immediate siblings in the grammatical tree. Changed examples and rewrote discussion following remarks by Etienne.

All pronunciation is written using X-SAMPA; etymology information was mostly taken from the French Wiktionary and the Trésor de la Langue Française. I did not intend this to be a serious study, however, hence the absence of inline quotations.

I group the cases in three general categories with the same general mechanism, and a fourth category of exceptional cases.

See also my list of ambiguous verbal forms in French and my list of French words without rhymes.

Indicative imperfect first person plural of a verb vs. plural of a noun

Those are words ending in "-tions" which can be understood either as the indicative imperfect first person plural of a verb in "-ter" or "-tir" (in which case they will be pronounced -tjO~) or as the plural of a noun in "-tion" (in which case they will be pronounced -sjO~). In some cases, the noun and verb have some similarity; in other cases, they have none.

acceptions (aksEptjO~, aksEpsjO~)
Clash between verb "accepter" ("to accept") and related noun "acception" ("a possible meaning for a word", and a few other meanings).
actions (aktjO~, aksjO~)
Clash between rare verb "acter" (mostly replaced today by "prendre acte de", meaning "take something into account") and related noun "action" ("action") from verb "agir" ("to act").
adoptions (adOptjO~, adOpsjO~)
Clash between verb "adopter" and derived noun "adoption".
affections (afEktjO~, afEksjO~)
Clash between verb "affecter" and related noun "affection". Both words have a lot of possible meanings, with much similarity.
contractions (kO~tRaktjO~, kO~tRaksjO~)
Clash between verb "contracter" and derived noun "contraction".
éditions (editjO~, edisjO~)
Clash between verb "éditer" and derived noun "édition".
exceptions (eksEptjO~, eksEpsjO~)
Clash between verb "excepter" and the much more common noun "exception".
exécutions (egzekytjO~, egzekysjO~)
Clash between verb "exécuter" and the derived noun "exécution".
inspections (E~spEktjO~, E~spEksjO~)
Clash between verb "inspecter" and the derived noun "inspection".
intentions (E~tA~tjO~, E~tA~sjO~)
Clash between rare verb "intenter" ("to take to court") and the related noun "intention" ("intention").
interceptions (E~tERsEptjO~, E~tERsepsjO~)
Clash between verb "intercepter" and the derived noun "interception".
inventions (E~vA~tjO~, E~vA~sjO~)
Clash between verb "inventer" and the derived noun "invention".
mentions (mA~tjO~, mA~sjO~)
Clash between verb "mentir" ("to tell a lie") and the unrelated noun "mention" ("mention") for which the related verb is "mentionner" ("to mention").
notions (nOtjO~, nOsjO~)
Clash between verb "noter" ("to take note of") and the unrelated noun "notion" ("notion").
objections (ObZEktjO~, ObZEksjO~)
Clash between verb "objecter" and the derived noun "objection".
options (OptjO~, opsjO~)
Clash between rare verb "opter" and the derived noun "option". Notice that the first "o" is also pronounced differently.
portions (poRtjO~, pORsjO~)
Clash between verb "porter" ("to carry", from Latin "porto") and the derived noun "portion" ("portion", "serving", from Latin "portio").
prospections (pROspEktjO~, pRospEksjO~)
Clash between verb "prospecter" and the derived noun "prospection".
rations (RatjO~, RasjO~)
Clash between verb "rater" ("to miss", from an obsolete expression "prendre un rat") and the unrelated noun "ration" ("ration", from Latin "ratio").
relations (R2latjO~, R2lasjO~)
Clash between verb "relater" ("to relate") and the much more common noun "relation" ("relation").
sélections (selEktjO~, selEksjO~)
Clash between rare verb "sélecter" ("to select", in some specialized contexts) and the much more common noun "sélection" ("selection") for which the usual verb is "sélectionner" ("to select").

Indicative present third person plural of a verb vs. adjective or noun

Those are words ending in "-ent" which can be understood either as the indicative present third person plural of a verb (in which case they will be pronounced -, ie. the ending is mute) or as a noun or adjective (pronounced -A~).

affluent (afly, aflyA~)
Clash between verb "affluer" ("to flow") and derived adjective "affluent" ("which flows") and noun "affluent" ("of water, to flow inside a stream").
confluent (kO~fly, kO~flyA~)
Clash between verb "confluer" ("of a flow, to converge") and derived adjective "confluent" and noun "confluent".
content (kO~t, kO~tA~)
Clash between verb "conter" ("to tell a story", a bit dated, derived from Latin "computare" which also led to "compter" ("to count")) and unrelated adjective "content" ("happy", from Latin "contentus") which can also be used as a noun in the old expression "son content" ("as much as one needed").
convergent (kO~vERZ, kO~vERZA~)
Clash between verb "converger" and adjective "convergent" ("converging").
couvent (kuv, kuvA~)
Clash between verb "couver" ("to sit upon an egg", from Latin "cubare") and unrelated noun "couvent" ("convent", from Latin "conventus"). A well-known play on word is "les poules du couvent couvent" (the hens from the convent sit upon eggs), finishing in kuvA~ kuv.
coïncident (kOE~sid, kOE~sidA~)
Clash between verb "coïncider" and derived adjective "coïncident".
divergent (divERZ, divERZA~)
Clash between verb "diverger" and derived adjective "divergent".
émergent (emERZ, emERZA~)
Clash between verb "émerger" and derived adjective "émergent".
équivalent (ekival, ekivalA~)
Clash between rare verb "équivaloir" ("to be of the same value") and derived adjective and noun "équivalent".
évident (evid, evidA~)
Clash between verb "évider" ("to hollow", from Latin "vacuus") and much more frequent and unrelated adjective "évident" ("obvious", from Latin "evidens").
excellent (eksEl, eksElA~)
Clash between verb "exceller" ("to excel") and derived adjective "excellent".
expédient (ekspedi, ekspedjA~)
Clash between verb "expédier" ("to send", "to expedite") and rare adjective and noun "expédient" ("expedient").
ferment (fERm, fERmA~)
Clash between verb "fermer" ("to close", from Latin "firmare") and unrelated noun "ferment" ("ferment", from Latin "fermentus").
influent (E~fly, E~flyA~)
Clash between verb "influer" ("to influence") and related adjective "influent" ("influential").
insolent (E~sOl, E~sOlA~)
Clash between rare verb "insoler" ("to expose to light" in technical contexts) and unrelated adjective and noun "insolent" ("insolent").
négligent (negliZA~, negliZ)
Clash between verb "négliger" ("to neglect") and related adjective and noun "négligent" ("careless").
parent (paR, paRA~)
Clash between rare verb "parer" ("to parry" or "to adorn", from Latin "parare") and the much more frequent noun and adjective "parent" ("parent", from Latin "parens").
président (pRezidA~, pRezid)
Clash between verb "présider" ("to preside") and derived noun "président" ("president").
résident (Rezid, RezidA~)
Clash between verb "résider" ("to reside") and derived noun and adjective "résident" ("which resides").
somnolent (sOmnOl, somnOlA~)
Clash between verb "somnoler" ("to drowse") and related adjective "somnolent" ("drowsy").
talent (tal, talA~)
Clash between rare verb "taler" ("to hurt", "to nag", from popular Latin "talare") and the much more common noun "talent" ("talent", from Latin "talentum").
urgent (yRZ, yRZA~)
Clash between verb "urger" ("to be urgent") and more common derived adjective "urgent" ("urgent").
violent (vjOl, vjolA~)
Clash between verb "violer" ("to rape", from Latin "violare", from "vis") and derived adjective "violent" ("violent", from Latin "violentus", also from "vis").

Infinitive of a first group verb vs. nouns (often borrowed from English)

This is a conflict between a verb infinitive ending in "er" (and pronounced -e), and a noun ending in "er" (and pronounced either -ER or -9R). Sometimes the verb is an existing French verb, and sometimes it is a borrowing from English with the suffix "-er" added to create a verb, conflicting with the use of "-er" in English to mean "someone who does something" (the same occuring with suffix "-eur" in French).

boxer (bOkse, bOksER)
Clash between verb "boxer" ("to box" in the sense of "to strike with the fists", borrowed from English in the 18th century) and noun "boxer" ("the boxer race of dogs", or "boxer shorts", borrowed from English in the 20th century). The noun derived from verb "boxer" is "boxeur" ("someone who practices boxing", also pronounced bOksER).
carter (kaRte, kaRtER)
Clash between rare verb "carter" (a neologism meaning "to check the age of someone by requesting their identity card") and rare noun "carter" ("a protective box for a mechanism", from the name of its inventor, J. Harrison Carter).
chopper (SOpe, SOpER)
Clash between rare verb "chopper" ("to stumble", not to be confused with the much more frequent verb "choper", attested since the 17th century) and noun "chopper" (either a chopper motorcycle or a chopper in archaeology, a more recent borrowing from English).
corner (koRne, koRnER)
Clash between verb "corner" (many meanings, the most frequent today being "to fold a corner of a page") and noun "corner" (the "corner" from football, borrowed from English).
driver (dRajve, dRajv9R)
Clash between verb "driver" ("to drive" in certain specialized contexts, borrowed from English) and noun "driver" (either "someone who drives" or "something to drive with" in certain specialized contexts, also borrowed from English).
interviewer (E~tERvjuve, E~tERvjuv9R)
Clash between verb "interviewer" ("to interview", borrowed from English) and noun "interviewer" ("someone who interviews", borrowed from English, with "intervieweur" being the recommended form since the 1990 reform).
manager (manadZe, manadZ9R)
Clash between verb "manager" ("to manage", borrowed from English) and noun "manager" ("manager", borrowed from English).
mixer (miks9R, mikse)
Clash between verb "mixer" ("to mix" for music and food, borrowed from English) and noun "mixer" ("mixer", borrowed from English and also spelled "mixeur").
palmer (palme, palmER)
Clash between rare verb "palmer" (a French verb from French "palme" or from Latin "palma") and rare noun "palmer" (a measurement tool invented by Jean-Laurent Palmer). Those aren't borrowings from English, for once.
placer (plase, plasER)
Clash between verb "placer" ("to place") and rare noun "placer" ("a placer deposit", borrowed from English, or maybe directly from American Spanish)
pointer (pwE~te, pwE~t9R)
Clash between verb "pointer" ("to point") and noun "pointer" (the "pointer" dog breed, borrowed from English)
porter (pORte, poRtER)
Clash between verb "porter" ("to carry") and noun "porter" (the "porter" beer, from English)
ranger (RA~Ze, RA~ZER)
Clash between verb "ranger" ("to tidy up", "to file", "to sort") and noun "ranger" (borrowed from English "ranger").
reporter (R@pORte, R@poRtER)
Clash between verb "reporter" ("to report") and noun "reporter" (borrowed from English "reporter").
scanner (skane, skanER)
Clash between verb "scanner" ("to scan", borrowed from English) and noun "scanner" (borrowed from English).
sprinter (spRinte, spRint9R)
Clash between verb "sprinter" ("to sprint", borrowed from English) and noun "sprinter" ("sprinter", borrowed from English, alternate spelling "sprinteur").
supporter (sypoRte, sypoRt9R)
Clash between verb "supporter" ("to put up with", or, more recently, "to support" like in English) and noun "supporter" ("supporter", borrowed from English in the 15th century).

Miscellaneous cases

as (a, as)
Clash between verb "avoir" ("to have") indicative present second person singular, and noun "as" ("ace", from Latin "as").
bus (by, bys)
Clash between verb "boire" ("to drink") indicative simple past first or second person singular, and noun "bus" ("bus", from "autobus", from "omnibus").
but (by, byt)
Clash between verb "boire" ("to drink") indicative simple past third person singular, and noun "but" ("goal", unclear etymology).
chut (Sy, Syt)
Clash between old verb "choir" ("to fall", now replaced by "tomber") indicative simple past third person singular and onomatopoeia "chut" ("hush!")
convient (kO~vi, kO~vjE~)
Clash between verb "convier" ("to invite") indicative present third person plural and "convenir" ("to be suitable") indicative present third person singular.
désioniser (desjOnize, dezjOnize) and derivatives
Clash between neologism "désioniser" ("to un-Sionize") and technical verb "désioniser" ("to un-ionize", not to be mistaken with the English non-homophonous homograph "union-ize"). Added this one from the French Wiktionary
est (e, est)
Clash between verb "être" ("to have") indicative present third person singular, and noun "est" ("east").
ester (este, estER)
Clash between obsolete verb "ester" ("to go to court", from Medieval Latin "stare") and noun "ester" ("ester", from German "Essigäther").
fier (fje, fjER)
Clash between verb "fier" ("se fier à": "to rely on", from Latin "fidere") and adjective "fier" ("proud", from Latin "ferus").
fils (fis, fil)
Clash between noun "fils" ("son", plural "fils", from Latin "filius") and the plural of noun "fil" ("thread", from Latin "filum"). This one is pretty nasty because it is between two plural nouns which can't always be distinguished by grammatical context, ie. "j'ai deux fils" could either mean "I have two sons" (pronounced ZEd2fis) or "I have two threads" (pronounced ZEd2fil).
lis (li, lis)
Clash between verb "lire" ("to read") indicative present first or second person singular and noun "lis" ("the lily flower", also spelled "lys").
obvient (Obvi, ObvjE~)
Clash between verb "obvier" ("to obviate") indicative present third person plural and "obvenir" (rare legal term for "to befall") indicative present third person singular. Added this one which was missing.
plus (ply, plys)
A complicated mess. "plus" can be a noun ("a plus", always pronounced plys), the indicative simple past first or second person singular of verb "plaire" ("to please", always pronounced ply), or mean either "more" or "no more", "anymore". In written language, the distinction is usually given by grammar: compare "je n'en veux plus" ("I don't want any more") and "j'en veux plus" ("I want more"), or "il est plus riche" ("he's richer") and "il n'est plus riche" ("he's not rich anymore"). In colloquial speech, however, the first two examples will be rendered as "j'en veux plus" and distinguished by pronunciation of "plus" as plys or ply respectively; more annoyingly, the last two examples will be rendered as "il est plus riche" with "plus" always pronounced as ply and can only be distinguished by context.
pressent (pResA~, pRes)
Clash between verb "pressentir" ("to sense") indicative third person singular and verb "presser" ("to press") indicative third person plural. added this one which I missed because of an error in Lexique
sens (sA~, sA~s)
Clash between verb "sentir" ("to feel", "to smell") indicative present first or second person singular and noun "sens" ("sense").
surfait (syRfE, s9RfE) and similar
Clash between "surfait", the third person singular present indicative of "surfaire ("to overdo"; the past participle often means "overrated") and "surfait", the third person singular present indicatif of "surfer" ("to surf"), a more recent verb. Added this one.
sus (sy, sys)
Clash between verb "savoir" ("to know") indicative simple past first or second person singular and old adverb "sus" ("en sus": "in addition", "further").
transit (tRA~zi, tRA~zit)
Clash between old verb "transir" ("to chill", "to freeze") indicative present or simple past third person singular and noun "transit".
vis (vi, vis)
Clash between verb "voir" ("to see") indicative simple past first or second person singular or verb "vivre" ("to live") indicative simple past or present first or second person singular, and noun "vis" ("screw").
comments welcome at a3nm<REMOVETHIS>@a3nm.net