Spelling of lookalike words - Spelling and more - Speed Up Your French: Strategies to avoid common errors (2016)

Speed Up Your French: Strategies to avoid common errors (2016)

Chapter 9. Spelling and more


If you want your written French to look professional, you need to pay attention to spelling, the use of accents, elision and capital letters. This chapter draws your attention to common problems and highlights key differences between written English and written French. The exercises will enable you to practise the French conventions.

Spelling of lookalike words

Particular care is needed with near lookalike words. These have been grouped below into patterns so that they are easier to remember. The examples are given by way of illustration and are not exhaustive.

1 A single consonant in French where there is a double consonant in English:

une adresse (an address), agressif (aggressive), apaiser (to appease), un comité (a committee), exagérer (to exaggerate), le trafic (traffic; trafficking)

2 A double consonant in French where there is a single consonant in English:

le développement (development), développer (to develop), l’hommage (homage), l’impressionnisme (impressionism), conditionnel (conditional), professionnel (professional), sensationnel (sensational), traditionnel (traditional)

Be particularly on your guard for French words with a double ‘n’.

3 A different vowel in French:

un exemple (an example), indépendant (independent), la médecine (medicine), naturel (natural), responsable (responsible), une tendance (a tendency)

4 The French word does not contain a letter that is present in the English word:

l’alcool (alcohol), un garde (a guard), le langage (language), un objet (an object; a purpose), pratique (practical), le rythme (rhythm)

Note that in French, ‘gu’ is used before the vowel ‘a’ only to produce the sound [gw], e.g. le Guatémala (Guatemala).

5 There are one or more letters in the French word that do not appear in the English word:

l’environnement (environment), le gouvernement (government)

6 The French word ends in –f, but the English word ends in -ve:

un adhésif (an adhesive), un explétif (an expletive), un impératif (an imperative), un infinitif (an infinitive), un laxatif (a laxative), un objectif (an objective), le subjonctif (the subjunctive)

The most common mistake is with un objectif (an objective).

Watch out for some notable exceptions to this pattern, e.g. une alternative (an alternative), une directive (a directive).

Watch out also for adjectives whose feminine form ends in –ve, but whose masculine form ends in –f, and avoid the common mistake of using –ve for both.

l’aspect positif (the good side), une attitude positive (a positive attitude)

7 Avoid the temptation to make a French word look different from its English equivalent if in fact it is exactly the same.

le public (the public), en public (in public)

The word publique does exist, but it is the feminine form of the adjective public. Note the difference between un hôpital public (a state-run hospital) and la dette publique (the national debt).

8 Remember the link between beaucoup and the adjective beau, and avoid the common misspelling *beacoup.



EXERCISE 1. In each but one of the following sentences, there is a single spelling mistake. Correct the mistakes and identify the sentence that is completely correct.

1 Nous avons pour objective de porter cette affaire à la connaissance du public.

2 Les professionnels de la santé devraient apprendre le language des sourdsmuets.

3 L’alcool est responsible de nombreux accidents.

4 Nous avons eu beacoup de mal à apaiser les militants.

5 Pour ce qui est de cela il faut vous addresser au comité d’entreprise.

6 À l’exemple de sa mère, elle tient à son indépendence.

7 Il a une tendance naturelle à la paresse.

8 Il ne faut pas sous-estimer l’importance de la médicine traditionnelle.

9 Elle a parlé de lui en termes très positives, rendant hommage à ses nombreuses réussites.

10 Il est parti au Guatémala sans laisser d’addresse.