Oh, my

Photo source: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-love-phonetics/.
Photo source: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-love-phonetics/.

In English, the spelling of a word doesn’t tell you how to pronounce it—it just gives you some clues about how to pronounce it. Through, though, tough, and plough are famous examples.  French is the same. But, even more so, it’s the case that in French, knowing how to pronounce a word only gives you the slightest clue how to spell it. In a previous post, we looked at several ways to spell words that sound like mur. Here are nine different words that all sound identical in French. Specifically, they all sound like the English word oh:

  • o: this is the letter of the alphabet.
  • ô: this is the poetic “oh”–“Oh, bird of my soul, fly away now, For I possess a hundred fortified towers.”  (Rumi)
  • au: in theory, this means “to the,” but you see it in lots of other uses, like things that would be compound nouns in English— for example, pain au chocolat, a delicious chocolate-filled square croissant.
  • aux: “to the” again, but this time plural.
  • eau: water.
  • eaux: waters.
  • haut: high (male singular)
  • hauts: high (male plural)
  • os: bone

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the same letters or letter combinations always sound the same.  My favorite is notre and nôtre. Despite the fact that the words o and ô are pronounced the same (see above for their meanings), notre and nôtre, which mean almost the same thing (roughly “our” and “ours”), are pronounced quite differently.

Incidentally: the technical term for words that sound the same as other words is homophones.  You see them in lots of languages.  They may or may not also be homographs—words that are spelt the same.  We talked about the ubiquity of ambiguity in human languages in a previous post–homophones are a source of ambiguity in spoken language, and homographs are a source of ambiguity in written language.

Can you add any more words to my list of French words that are pronounced o?  If so, how about putting them in the Comments section?

2 thoughts on “Oh, my”

  1. I think you’ve got them all, though I don’t see “aux” the plural of “au” (to the girls…). Au does indeed have lots of meanings, like time (au printemps), place (le bateau était ancré au large) etc…

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Curative Power of Medical Data

JCDL 2020 Workshop on Biomedical Natural Language Processing


Criminal Curiosities


Biomedical natural language processing

Mostly Mammoths

but other things that fascinate me, too


Adventures in natural history collections

Our French Oasis


ACL 2017

PC Chairs Blog

Abby Mullen

A site about history and life

EFL Notes

Random commentary on teaching English as a foreign language

Natural Language Processing

Université Paris-Centrale, Spring 2017

Speak Out in Spanish!

living and loving language




Exploring and venting about quantitative issues

%d bloggers like this: