You may have noticed the difference a little accent mark can make. Take the words côté, cote, and côte, for example. It’s the same four letters, but depending on the accents, both the meaning and the pronunciation can change.
Côté is a two-syllable word, while côte and cote are one-syllable words, each with its own unique pronunciation (though in some regions of France there may be little distinction in pronunciation).
In its most straightforward definition, côté means “side.”
Que je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés
Over the fact that I’m sitting across from you and not by your side
Caption 23, Babylon Circus: J'aurais bien voulu
It may seem a bit odd that "by your side" is à tes côtés (plural) and not à ton côté (singular), but this is just how it's done in French.
When getting directions, you will often hear du côté droit (on the right hand side) or du côté gauche (on the left hand side). “Next to” (which, if you think about it, could be said “on the side of”) is expressed as à côté:
C'est juste à côté de la voiture.
It's right next to the car.
Côté can also be used to describe an aspect, a quality, or a “side” of something:
Je dirais les ingrédients qu'on a dans cette farce va donner ce côté savoureux et moelleux à la volaille.
I would say the ingredients in this stuffing will give the bird a savory and juicy quality.
Captions 29-30, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
But the word côté is not only used literally. It also appears in expressions like:
D’un côté... D’un autre côté...
On one hand... On the other hand...
Côté can also be used to show someone’s opinion, their “side” on an issue, or their perspective.
De son côté, Nicolas Sarkozy annonce sa volonté de rupture avec la politique africaine de la France.
For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy announces his desire to break away from France's African policies.
Caption 14, Le Journal: Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 1
And we see the same sort of côté in the video on the marché in Rennes:
Bon, du côté de Cocotte, secret défense.
Okay, as for Cocotte, it's top secret.
Caption 12, Le Journal: Gourmet en Bretagne
But côté is not only used to express the perspective of a person. It can also be translated as “about” or “on the subject of” or “as for.” In the following example, it’s used to distinguish between the main and secondary railway lines:
Côté grandes lignes, la SNCF a depuis longtemps pensé aux voyageurs handicapés.
As for the main lines, the SNCF has long thought of handicapped travelers.
Caption 11, Le Journal: Manifestation de paralysés
Just in case that’s not enough to satisfy your curiosity, keep in mind the word côté’s similarly spelled (and hence easy to confuse) counterparts...
For starters, there's côte, one of the primary meanings of which is very similar-sounding to its English equivalent: “coast” (as in "the Pacific coast"). Actually, en français, the French Riviera is called the “Azure Coast.”
Venu de sa Côte d'Azur natale, il est tombé amoureux de l'île et de ses fonds marins.
Having come from his native French Riviera, he fell in love with the island and its sea depths.
Caption 7, Le Journal: L'île de Pâques
Côte can also mean “rib,” as in côte d’Adam or côte d’agneau (what we call a “lamb chop”).
And last but not least, the second video in the series on Sarkozy’s trip to South Africa gives us an example of an entirely different kind of cote, which means “stock.” This can be in the literal sense (stock market) or refer to the general worth/esteem of something or someone, as below.
Alors que sa cote continue de chuter, Nicolas Sarkozy tente un quitte ou double vis-à-vis de l'opinion
As his stock continues to tumble, Nicolas Sarkozy tries to double down on opinion
Captions 18-19, Le Journal: Sarkozy en Afrique du Sud - Part 2
There’s also a related verb, coter, which means to rate, quote, or list the price of something.
Cette voiture est cotée à 10.000$ dans le journal.
This car is listed at $10,000 in the newspaper.
Whether you’re talking economics, opinions, proximity, food, or geography, you’ll be better equipped knowing the nuances and differences of these similarly spelled words!