Mayor, mother, sea

Yesterday I was at the local village pharmacy, chatting with the pharmacist.

“I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your mayor,” I said. Or rather, thought I said.


“I heard that your mayor died recently,”

He looked at me as if I was deranged.

“No,” he said. “My mother is very much alive.”

“I’m talking about your mayor – M. … His death was announced in the newspaper.”

“Oh, you mean Monsieur le maire!” he exclaimed.

How do you master a language where three different words with three different meanings are all pronounced identically?

Mère – mother

Maire – mayor

Mer – sea

All pronounced “mɛr”, according to Larousse.


13 thoughts on “Mayor, mother, sea

  1. Whatever Larousse may say…they’re pronounced differently. Or they were where I lived.
    I can’t do the phonetics, but the e in mere is longer than in mer and you open your mouth differently to do the ai sound.

    But it conjures up visions of one’s mother the mayor floating out to sea….

      • Hello a couple of thoughts here, if I may…

        I don’t know what you said in french, as your english translation of it might not be accurate (‘I heard that your mayor died recently’) but as mère and maire sound pretty identical even for a frenchman the clue is in the COD (complement d’objet direct)

        – le maire est mort, la mère est mortE.
        So if you said mort (mor) or if you said morte (mor-teu) that could make the difference….

        – Also “votre maire” is misleading in more than one way:

        – it’s not “your mayor” but “the mayor” as he gives the clue in his answer ‘monsieur le maire”.
        He “has” a mother, a car, a wife, a shop and many other things but not a mayor.

        – If you live in the same village, why would you say “votre maire” as it is not only his but yours too….and so you should have said “notre maire’ (our mayor).

        So I believe the issue here is not about the proper pronounciation of (mer/mère/maire) but more about the “context” and a potential grammatical mistake (mort/morte).

        …And one for you; How can one masters a language where the same letters can be pronounced differently? 🙂
        Like in: I like to READ a good book, but yesterday I READ one that was not so good.

        Welcome in the wonderful world of languages 🙂

      • Thank you very much indeed for your comment, which is most enlightening and helpful.

        Perhaps if I had said “Monsieur le Maire” it would have been correct?

        We live in neighbouring villages, so we have different mayors.

        Your point regarding the English language is taken – we only have to consider “though”, “bough”, “cough” “enough” ………… 😀

      • No you didn’t have to say “monsieur le maire” really,..
        He emphasised on that only to ensure there was no ambiguity left probably….
        About french pronunciation bookmark this excellent website
        Select language (French from France) and type in
        ‘le maire est mort mais ma mère est morte’
        you will distincly hear the ‘thhhh’ in the end for “morte”
        a bit tricky like it is for a frenchman to say crisp-psss for crisps….
        My english friends were very proud of me when I could!

  2. Exactly! Do you think they’ve done it deliberately to make life awkward for foreigners? It’s like those other two words that get muddled up – baiser and baisser. 🙂

  3. I think I can, but there are so many traps, so many subtleties that the more you learn, the more you have to learn..
    It’s never easy to get acquainted to someone else’s language as there are culture, history and so many other things behind it. But it’s worth a try!

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