French Language Blog

French Homophones: “Ça”, “çà”, and “sa” Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Grammar, Vocabulary


Whether or not you’ve been fully or partially diagnosed with a desperately incurable case of “coulrophobie” (that -please don’t laugh- is the serious term that applies to the “phobia of clowns”), using “ça” in French grammar should not be as terrifying of an experience as, say, watching all alone in the grim darkness of your home’s basement the director’s cut version of Stephen King’s movie adaptation “Ça” (or “IT”, in the original)

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Now, as the title not so subtly hints at, we are considering today the homophone terms: “Ça“, “çà“, and “sa.

Just take a good look at them. All three se prononcent exactement de la même façon (are pronounced in exactly the same fashion.)

That being the case, you may wonder, how on Earth you are to tell them apart—especially if you are to run into them in the middle of a conversation, par exemple?

The answer, mes chers amis (my dear friends), is in fact simple, and holds in one beautiful word: Contexte.

It is all about the context, indeed.
Or if you prefer, “le contexte est roi(“The context is king.”)

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* First “Çà“, as un adverbe (an adverb):

As an adverb, it is easy to recognize “çà“, since it invariably occurs in the expression “çà et là“, meaning “here and there”, and can alternatively be expressed by “par-ci, par-là.

  • Here’s un exemple: “Il voulut prendre le pont Saint-Michel, des enfants y couraient çà et là avec des lances à feu et des fusées.” (“He wanted to take the Saint-Michel bridge, where kids were running here and there with flamethrowers and rockets.”) (Victor Hugo)

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* Then “Ça“, as un pronom (a pronoun):

The “ça“, without an accent, is easily recognizable.
The best way to identify it is looking at the context of the sentence to see whether you can replace it with “cela”, of which it is a shorthand.

  • “Tout ça… pour ça !” (“All that… for that!”) is the title of a famous French movie by “shady” movie director Claude Lelouch (“louche” means just that in French: “shady”!)
Notice that the contraction of cela into ça is mainly acceptable in informal French, such as in a daily conversation.
In the formal written French, however, you should avoid the use of “ça” instead of cela at all costs.
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* Finally, Sa“, as un déterminant (a determinant):
This is also simple. Just try to replace “sa” with another determinant, such as “le” or “la“, “mon” or “ma“, etc., and then check if the newly formed sentence makes sense to you!
  • Example: “Il a bien retenu sa leçon” (“He learned his lesson well.”)
  • It can alternatively work for “J’ai bien retenu ma leçon” (“I learned well my lesson”)
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