Sometimes French is hard for French people too

posted by Simon Kemp

Poor French people! With so many silent letters and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) to contend with, it’s no wonder that written French can sometimes be a tricky area even for fluent speakers of the language. Here are some examples of native speakers coming unstuck with some embarrassingly high-profile written French. See if you can spot the errors, and if you can see the difference between the kinds of mistakes native speakers make from the ones language learners make:

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All the images are from here, a website I hesitate to link to as so many of the other grammar and spelling mistakes they feature turn out really quite rude. Still, you can’t get the rude jokes unless you can understand the French, so I suppose it’s all educationally sound.

As for native-speaker mistakes, you may notice that all the sentences above make perfect sense if you read them out loud. The wrong words are all homophones for the correct ones, e.g. ‘encre’ (ink) for ‘ancre’ (anchor), ‘retirer’ for ‘retirées’. Like native English speakers muddling ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, French speakers know how it’s meant to sound, but not necessarily how it’s meant to look, which leads them to make quite different slips from the ones foreigners learning French tend to commit.


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