French Lessons

Topics

It All Sounds the Same to Me! - A Lesson on Homophones

Have you noticed that while some French words have many variations in spelling, they sound the same?

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

 

For example, the words un verre, un ver, vers, and vert(s) share the same pronunciation yet have different meanings. That makes them homophones.

 

Homophones are especially common in French as the letters t, d, and s, when placed at the end of a word, are usually silent.

 

Check out Patricia’s video on homophones and homonyms, which she turned into a fun story.

 

Let’s examine the examples mentioned earlier.

 

Un verre can mean "a glass" or "a drink." The expression boire un verre means "to have a drink." Or, you can say prendre un verre.

 

On est tous là avec juste l'envie de passer un bon moment, de boire un verre

We are all here just with the desire to have a good time, to have a drink

Caption 52, Actu Vingtième Vendanges parisiennes

 Play Caption

 

Le verre also refers to the material itself. It means "glass," as in English:

 

Nous sommes maintenant chez le souffleur de verre de L'Isle-Adam.

We are now at the L'Isle-Adam glassblower's.

Caption 11, Voyage en France L'Isle-Adam - Part 4

 Play Caption

 

Speaking of verre, did you know that Cinderella’s slippers might originally have been made not of verre, but of vair (squirrel fur)?

 

Some scholars believe the original fable described pantoufles de vair (squirrel fur slippers), which became pantoufles de verre (glass slippers) in Charles Perrault's famous version. No one knows if he made a mistake or simply chose a new material for the slippers in his version of the fairy tale.

 

From squirrels to worms…. Un ver de terre is an earthworm, a critter that Claire and Philippe remember fondly in their La campagne video.

 

Alors elle prenait le petit ver de terre dans la main.

So she used to take the little earthworm in her hand.

Caption 71, Claire et Philippe La campagne

 Play Caption

 

And the poetically named ver solitaire (literally, "solitary worm") is the French word for "tapeworm”!

 

If the thought of many vers solitaires turns you off (vers being the plural of ver), let’s turn toward vers, an innocuous word that simply means "toward."

 

In the Actus Quartier video, this young lady is looking toward the future:

 

Je suis tournée vers l'avenir et vers tout ce qu'on va construire... 

I'm looking toward the future and toward all that we're going to build… 

Caption 40, Actus Quartier Fête de la rose au caviar rouge

 Play Caption

 

Vers also means "around," "about":

 

Plutôt vers deux heures du matin

Instead around two o'clock in the morning

Caption 60, Adrien Le métro parisien

 Play Caption

 

Now, for a more colorful version of this homophone, you have the word vert, which means "green." 

 

As you probably know, vert, like most adjectives, takes on masculine, feminine, and plural endings. For more information on adjective agreements, refer to previous lessons.

 

As mentioned earlier, -t and -s are often not pronounced at the end of a word. So vert (masculine singular) sounds exactly like verts (masculine plural). However, note that vert will become verte when agreeing with a feminine singular noun, and the t in verte will be pronounced! 

 

Donc, on va écrire "vert". Masculin. Sinon... "verte".

So we're going to write "green." Masculine. Otherwise... "green" [feminine].

Caption 28, Leçons avec Lionel Couleurs

 Play Caption


Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with homophones, you’ll be surprised how many you'll be able to spot! But if you haven't satisfied your appetite for homophones, click here to learn some more.

Unchanging Colors

In this lesson, we're going to discuss a somewhat tricky aspect of French color words. Like the vast majority of adjectives, most French color words agree in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural) with the noun they modify. Let's take the adjective noir (black) as an example:

 

Ils peuvent être noirs.

It can be black.

Caption 11, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 Play Caption

 

Ensuite vous avez mon écharpe noire, une simple étole.

Then you have my black scarf, a simple wrap.

Caption 9, Fanny parle des saisons - S'habiller en hiver

 Play Caption

 

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

In the first sentence, noir modifies the masculine plural noun cheveux ("hair" is always plural in French), so it takes the masculine plural ending -s (noirs). In the second sentence, noir modifies the feminine singular noun écharpe, so it takes the feminine singular ending -e (noire).

 

However, certain color adjectives are invariable—that is, they never change regardless of the gender and number of the noun. All of these adjectives are derived from nouns. Take orange for example. As in English, in French orange refers to both the color and the fruit (une orange). Though you can certainly have de multiples oranges (multiple oranges), the adjective form of the word never changes, even in the plural:

 

J'ai acheté des chaussures orange
I bought orange shoes. 

 

On the other hand, rouge (red) isn't invariable (since it's not derived from a noun), so it does change in the plural: 

 

Tu as acheté des chaussures rouges
You bought red shoes. 

 

Another common color adjective that never changes is marron. Un marron is a chestnut, but when used as an adjective, it just means "brown": 

 

Regardez ces chiens. Ils sont marron?

Look at these dogs. Are they brown?

Caption 52, Leçons avec Lionel - Couleurs

 Play Caption

 

The other word for brown, brun, is variable. In this example, it modifies the feminine plural noun feuilles (leaves): 

 

De tas de feuilles à moitié mortes... Un jour vertes, un jour brunes

Lots of half-dead leaves... One day green, one day brown

Captions 9-11, Stromae - Bienvenue chez moi

 Play Caption

 

There's another word for "chestnut" too! It's une châtaigne. The related adjective châtain is variable and is often used to describe hair color:

 

Ils peuvent être châtains. Châtain, c'est marron.

It can be chestnut-colored. "Chestnut" is brown.

Captions 12-13, Le saviez-vous? - Le vocabulaire de la tête

 Play Caption

 

Some other invariable color adjectives are: abricot (apricot), ardoise (slate), argent (silver), azur (azure), brique (brick), bronze (bronze), café (coffee), caramel (caramel), champagne (champagne), chocolat (chocolate).

 

There's one more instance of invariability you should be aware of when dealing with color words. When you use more than one adjective to designate a single color (like "light blue," "dark green," etc.), neither of the adjectives changes according to the noun it modifies. For example:

 

Il a les yeux bleu clair et les cheveux brun foncé
He has light blue eyes and dark brown hair

 

But: 

 

Il a les yeux bleus et les cheveux bruns.
He has blue eyes and brown hair

 

As you may have noticed, like many other adjectives, color adjectives always follow the noun in French. See our previous lesson for more information on that. And for a good introduction to colors in French, check out Lionel's video on the subject.

BANNER PLACEHOLDER

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned and tweet us @yabla or send your topic suggestions to newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

You May Also Like