Free Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Homophones

This Wednesday’s Writer’s Workshop is all about Homophones

Ah, homophones. Funny word for a confusing topic. Homophones are a strange nuance in the English language, that even native speakers struggle with.

Some of these homophones occur so frequently in writing, and it’s a glaring error. Whether you’re submitting a piece to an editor or a paper for a grade, you need to catch these pesky guys.

So let’s break it down:

What is a homophone?

A homophone is two or more words that sound the same, but have different spellings and different meanings. What makes this confusing, especially for ESL learners, is that you have to know the context of the rest of the sentence to understand which word and meaning is being used. Using the wrong word changes the meaning of the sentence and looks sloppy.

Common Homophones

There/they’re/their

,One of the most commonly misused homophones, there/they’re/their all sound exactly the same, but the meanings are totally different.

There is a word that has many uses (in fact, I could write an entire post on the word there) : noun, pronoun, but often it is used as an adverb to indicate where.

Example: The garden is over there.

The other two uses are pronouns. They’re is a contraction meaning: They are.

Example: They’re going to the movies tonight.

Their is a possessive pronoun showing ownership of two or more people.

Example: Bruno is their dog.

It’s/its

Like there/they’re/their, it’s/its is commonly misused.

It’s is a contraction meaning it is.

Example: It’s going to be hot today.

Its is a possessive pronoun. This can be confusing because many possessives use an apostrophe and s to show ownership, but in this case, the opposite it true.

Example: The couch has a tear in its cushion.

Your/you’re

This is a homophone that even catches me sometimes, especially if I’m not paying attention.

You’re is a contraction that means you are.

Example: You’re running the 400 and 800 in the track meet today.

Your is a possessive pronoun showing ownership.

Example: Your hair looks very nice today.

Affect/effect

Affect/effect are two that, for some reason, really stump people. They sound the same, and even the rule for each is sometimes broken.

Affect is a verb meaning impact or change. It’s an action. So if someone is changing something, use affect.

Example: The soil was affected by the continuous spray of pesticides.

Effect is a noun–basically it’s the result of the change that took place.

Example: The effect of the tsunami was devastating.

(There are some instances where effect is used as a verb, but for the sake of clarity and simplicity in the post. we’re going to avoid that confusion for now.)

Than/then

Again, a common error that even English professionals sometimes don’t catch.

Than is a word that indicates a comparison.

Example: He is taller than I am.

Then indicates an sequence of events in order.

Example: We are going to the movies and then we will go home.

Accept/except

Like affect/effect, accept and except often get confused.

Accept means to consent to receive.

Example: The publisher accepted her picture book about peanut butter.

Except means to not include or differentiate from.

Example: I ate everything in the fridge except the mayonnaise.

To/too/two

Another three words that are often misused.

To is a preposition that indicates direction or intention.

Example: They walked to the park.

Too is used to emphasize something that is excessive OR to mean also.

Example: The cherry pie is too sweet/ Alfred is coming to the beach too.

Two is a number.

Example: I have two ears.

Sit/set

While they don’t technically sound the same, they get misused enough to warrant being included in this list. Even Bob Ross messed these up. (I still love him, though.)

Sit means to physically sit down.

Example: Arnie found a chair and decided to sit.

Set is to place an object down.

Example: He set the glass on the counter.

Bonus: lie/lay

While not technically homophones, these words are so often misused that I decided to add them in as a bonus.

Like sit, lie means to physically recline.

Example: I’m going to go lie down.

Lay is to place and object down.

Example: Lay the rug on the floor.

Once you understand homophones, they can be managed and even corrected easily. For a printable list of these common homophones, click below to download!

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