Free French Lessons
Lesson 17. Vocabulary
Give up? Start thinking in French. Do you see it now? They're all French homophones! So what are the tricks to distinguishing between mère, maire, and mer?
Let’s start off where life itself does—with our proud moms. In French, your mother is your mère.
Annie Chartrand, from Quebec, recalls the limited English ability of her own mère (as well as her père, her father).
Si je pense à mes parents, à mon père et ma mère, ils parlent anglais, mais c'est un peu plus, comme on dit en bon québécois, "baragouiné".
If I think of my parents, my dad or my mom, they speak English, but it's a bit more like, as we say in good Quebecois French, baragouiné.
Caption 12–13, Annie Chartrand: Grandir bilingue
Charles Baptiste, from Paris, sings of something nobody wants their mother to do (nobody nice anyway) in the song Je sais:
Tandis que ma mère se met à pleurer
Whereas my mother starts crying
Caption 21, Charles Baptiste: Je sais
Let's move away from such sadness (we hope Charles's mère is feeling better) to our second homophone: maire (mayor).
One way to distinguish this word from its homophones: maire (mayor) is a masculine noun and so is preceded by the masculine article le. But la mère (the mother) and la mer (the sea) are both feminine. Note that more people nowadays are using la maire to refer to a female mayor (see our lesson about the feminization of professions in French), although the officially correct term is la mairesse.
The mayor of Groslay, a town north of Paris, is not very popular… He banned chicken in municipal lunchrooms because of fears of avian flu.
L'interdiction du maire a également déclenché la colère des agriculteurs.
The mayor's ban has also triggered the anger of the farmers.
Caption 9, Le Journal: Le poulet dans les cantines
However, some mayors are less cautious than others. The mayor of Lille, for example, not only supported protesters who recklessly (and illegally) switched off street lighting in the city center, she joined their rally, French flag in hand!
Et c'est toujours au nom du service public que la maire de Lille soutient les agents d'EDF en grève.
And it is still in the name of the public service that the mayor of Lille supports the EDF agents on strike.
Caption 18, Le Journal: Grève de l'EDF à Lille – Part 1
Let's move on to our last homophone: la mer (the sea).
La mer is often a romantic image in popular songs. (Who doesn't love a little Charles Trenet?) Lyon-based ska band Babylon Circus sings about the sea in a song about dreams and lost hopes:
Les rames étaient trop courtes pour atteindre le niveau de la mer
The oars were too short to reach sea level
Caption 12, Babylon Circus: J'aurais bien voulu
So now, no more confusion between la mère (the mother), le maire (the mayor), and la mer (the sea)!