You may have noticed the difference a little accent mark can make. Take the words côté, cote, and côte, for example. It’s the same four letters, but depending on the accents, both the meaning and the pronunciation can change.
Côté is a two-syllable word, while côte and cote are one-syllable words, each with its own unique pronunciation (though in some regions of France there may be little distinction in pronunciation).
In its most straightforward definition, côté means “side.”
Que je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
Over the fact that I'm sitting across from you and not by your side
Caption 23, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
It may seem a bit odd that "by your side" is à tes côtés (plural) and not à ton côté (singular), but this is just how it's done in French.
When getting directions, you will often hear du côté droit (on the right hand side) or du côté gauche (on the left hand side). “Next to” (which, if you think about it, could be said “on the side of”) is expressed as à côté:
C'est juste à côté de la voiture.
It's right next to the car.
Côté can also be used to describe an aspect, a quality, or a “side” of something:
Je dirais les ingrédients qu'on a dans cette farce
I would say the ingredients in this stuffing
va [sic] donner ce côté savoureux et moelleux à la volaille.
will give the bird a savory and tender quality.
Captions 33-34, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
But the word côté is not only used literally. It also appears in expressions like:
D’un côté... D’un autre côté...
On one hand... On the other hand...
Côté can also be used to show someone’s opinion, their “side” on an issue, or their perspective.
De son côté, Nicolas Sarkozy annonce sa volonté
For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy announces his desire
de rupture avec la politique africaine de la France.
to break away from France's African policies.
Caption 17, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 1Play Caption
And we see the same sort of côté in the video on the marché in Rennes:
Bon, du côté de Cocotte, secret défense.
OK, as for Cocotte, it's top secret.
Caption 14, Le Journal - Gourmet en BretagnePlay Caption
But côté is not only used to express the perspective of a person. It can also be translated as “about” or “on the subject of” or “as for.” In the following example, it’s used to distinguish between the main and secondary railway lines:
Côté grandes lignes, la SNCF
As for the main lines, the SNCF
a depuis longtemps pensé aux voyageurs handicapés.
has kept handicapped travelers in mind for a long time.
Caption 12, Le Journal - Manifestation de paralysésPlay Caption
Just in case that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, keep in mind the word côté’s similarly spelled (and hence easy to confuse) counterparts...
For starters, there's côte, one of the primary meanings of which is very similar-sounding to its English equivalent: “coast” (as in "the Pacific coast"). Actually, en français, the French Riviera is called the “Côte d'Azur.”
Venu de sa Côte d'Azur natale,
Having come from his native French Riviera,
il est tombé amoureux de l'île et de ses fonds marins.
he fell in love with the island and its sea depths.
Caption 7, Le Journal - L'île de PâquesPlay Caption
Côte can also mean “rib,” as in côte d’Adam or côte d’agneau (what we call a “lamb chop”).
And last but not least, the second video in the series on Sarkozy’s trip to South Africa gives us an example of an entirely different kind of cote, which means “stock.” This can be in the literal sense (stock market) or refer to the general worth/esteem of something or someone, as below.
Alors que sa cote continue de chuter,
As his stock continues to tumble,
Nicolas Sarkozy tente un quitte ou double vis-à-vis de l'opinion.
Nicolas Sarkozy tries to double down on opinion.
Captions 17-18, Le Journal - Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 2Play Caption
There’s also a related verb, coter, which means to rate, quote, or list the price of something.
Cette voiture est cotée à 24.000$ dans le journal.
This car is listed at $24,000 in the newspaper.
Whether you’re talking economics, opinions, proximity, food, or geography, you’ll be better equipped knowing the nuances and differences of these similarly spelled words!