By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Define and give examples of homonyms, homographs, and homophones.
- Demonstrate correct use of commonly confused words.
When writing about language, you don’t want to make the mistake of misusing language. Homonyms are words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings. Homographs are words that are spelled the same but may sound different and have different meanings. Homophones are words that sound the same but might have a different spelling, a different meaning, or both. Because they sound the same, they are often confused. Other words frequently confused sound slightly different and have slightly different spellings. It’s important to recognize and correct commonly confused words because spell checkers don’t always catch these errors.
Because homonyms’ spelling and pronunciation are the same but their meanings are different, you probably don’t have to worry about misusing them, although they often belong to different parts of speech. However, some awareness of homonyms and their multiple meanings will help ensure that your language is precise. For more information about homonyms, see “Words and Language.”
Here are some common homonyms and their meanings:
Verb: to come together
Noun: group of musicians
Verb: to move back and forth
Noun: hard material found in the earth
Verb: to become sleepy or lose energy
Noun: ring-shaped rubber component that fits over the wheel of a vehicle
Noun: flow of water or electricity
Adjective: up to date
Verb: to teach or learn through practice
Noun: group of connected railroad cars
Homographs have the same spelling but different meanings. They are considered different from homonyms because they may be pronounced differently. Some disagreement exists among scholars as to whether pronunciation must be different for a word to be considered a homograph. Some experts insist that origins must differ as well. However, all agree that meanings differ. For more information about homographs, see Words and Language.
Here are some common homographs and their meanings:
Noun: a metal (pronounced led)
Verb: to be at the front, to guide (pronounced leed)
Verb: to bend forward
Noun: a position in which one bends forward
Noun: the front of a ship
Noun: a type of knot (pronounced boh)
Noun: a material item; a grammatical term (accent on first syllable)
Verb: to express disapproval (accent on second syllable)
Adjective: near (s pronounced like ss)
Verb: to bar passage; to shut down (s pronounced like z)
Noun: 60 seconds (pronounced minit)
Adjective: tiny (pronounced my-noot or my-nyoot)
Homophones are words that are spelled differently and have different meanings but sound the same. Homophones are often the words that cause the most confusion and the most frequent errors. For more information about homophones, see Words and Language.
Here are some common homophones and their meanings:
Weather means the conditions outside, such as temperature and sunshine.
Whether is a conjunction that joins words or other parts of a sentence.
Meat is animal-based food.
When you meet someone, you encounter or get together with that person.
Hear is what you do when you listen to music.
Here is a place nearby.
Two is a number, more than one and less than three.
Too may mean “also,” or it may mean “very” or “more (adjective) than desired.”
To is a preposition indicating direction or motion, as in “I wrote to the manager after I’d gone to the office.”
The following homophones are often confused. Note that one of each group is a contraction: two words shortened and joined by an apostrophe.
|their||Possessive pronoun, belonging to them: “The family packed their suitcases for their vacation.” Both the suitcases and the vacation belong to the family.|
|they’re||Contraction joining they and are: “They’re leaving for the airport at 10:30.” In other words, they are leaving.|
|there||Referring to a location: “‘Baggage claim is over there,’ the airport worker said while pointing to the baggage carousels.” This form indicates a physical place.|
|your||Possessive pronoun, belonging to you: “Your new phone will be mailed on November 4.” The phone belongs to you.|
|you’re||Contraction joining you and are: “You’re registered for the conference.” In other words, you are registered.|
|its||Possessive pronoun, belonging to it: “Its positive qualities outweigh its negative ones.” Both the positive and the negative qualities belong to it. It could be a book, house, car, movie, phone, or any other object or idea.|
|it’s||Contraction joining it and is: “It’s raining today.” In other words, it is raining.|
What Is the Effect? Or Is It Affect?
One final category of commonly confused words are words that sound and look similar but have different meanings.
Verb: to influence an outcome: “Increasing the minimum wage will affect the incomes of millions of Americans.”
Noun: body language that accompanies an expression of emotion: “The crime victim showed normal reactions and affects.”
Noun: the outcome or result of an influence: “The effect of the increased minimum wage will be a 10 percent decrease in the federal poverty rate.”
Verb: to cause to come into existence: “Congress will effect the new law.”
|Insure||Verb: to protect against damage or loss: “Homeowners must insure their property for the cost of full replacement.”|
|Ensure||Verb: to make certain of: “This policy will ensure that the bank doesn’t incur a loss as a result of irreparable damage to the home.”|
Choose the correct word to complete each sentence.
- Can you (hear/here) the phone ring from (hear/here)?
- Are you going (to/too/two) the movie theater at (to/too/two) p.m., or is that (to/too/two) early for you?
- This show always has a depressing (affect/effect) on me.
- (Its/It’s) hard to find small apartments for rent in this neighborhood.
- Let’s (meet/meat) at the pizza place so that I can eat something without (meet/meat).
- Although it will need work, (its/it’s) basic structure is sound.
- Check about (ensuring/insuring) personal items in your apartment.
- You can set the groceries on the table over (their/there/they’re).
- I’m going to watch the game at (their/there/they’re) house.
- How do you think the elections will (affect/effect) the neighborhood?
- (Their/There/They’re) listening to music on (their/there/they’re) headphones.
- (You’re/Your) going to trip if you don’t tie (you’re/your) shoelaces.
- Bring (you’re/your) phone to the store to exchange it for a new one.
- (Weather/whether) we travel depends on the (weather/whether).