The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

42 commonly confused English words (a.k.a. homophones!)

Posted by rachelwriter on September 1, 2009

Photo Courtesy: ktpupp/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: ktpupp/Flickr

I was skimming through some of my pals’ Facebook statuses the other day when I read something that made me cringe.  A friend had commented on a photo of a marathon runner, and the caption read something like this: “Fast as lightening.” 

I’ll give you three seconds to spot the error.

Three.  Two.  One.

Time’s up!

Don’t see the problem? 

Let me explain:

Unless my friend meant that the marathon runner was as fast as “the descent of the uterus into the pelvic cavity occurring toward the end of pregnancy”—which is what the noun, “lightening,” actually means—(and, I’m pretty sure she didn’t), it’s clear that she fell into one of the English language’s biggest grammar traps: homophones. 

What my friend meant to say was that the runner was as fast as a bolt of lightning—a flash of intense electric light that illuminates the sky during a storm.  She probably confused the word with the present participle of the verb lighten, too, which also happens to be lightening. 

Confusing?  Obviously.  Acceptable?  No way, José.

But that’s why I’m going to impart some grammatical wisdom to you.  So take note and learn!

Below is an incomplete list of homophones, in no particular order, that I just thought of off the top of my head and that I know can often confuse people.  To help shed some light on how each word should be used, I’ve also included sentences in which each word appears correctly.  


ThereThere’s a funny smell in there.                     

Their Their apartment smells funny.

They’reThey’re trying to clean the apartment to get rid of the funny smell.


TwoI rang the doorbell two times.              

TooI rang the doorbell two times, too.                   

ToI used to ring the doorbell two times, but I don’t anymore.


ItsThe cat likes its new treats.                   

It’sIt’s interesting that the dog likes the cat’s treats, too.


SureI’m sure the hurricane will lose strength before it makes landfall.                     

Shore – Debris from the hurricane washed up on shore.


PeakThe peak of the mountain is covered in snow.                                 

PeekDon’t peek!  It’s a surprise!

PiqueHere’s how to pique their interest.


ComplimentHe paid her such a nice compliment.            

ComplementHer shoes complement her dress very well.


BreakLet’s take a break from break dancing before we break something.                      

BrakeDon’t brake too suddenly or the airbags might deploy.


OneWhen he asked me to marry him, I knew he was the one.    

WonHe won me over with his good looks and charm.


MeetI’m going to meet my client for lunch.            

MeatI’m going to pick up some fresh meat from the butcher.


FeetMy feet have blisters on them from wearing uncomfortable shoes.                          

FeatNegotiating the terms of the treaty was a diplomatic feat.


ToeOuch, I stubbed my toe.                                  

TowWhen the car broke down, the mechanic had to tow it back to his garage.


CreekThe children caught tadpoles in the creek.             

Creak The old floorboards may creak when you walk on them.


ReadI prefer to read magazines instead of books.                                   

ReedThe marsh was overgrown with reeds.


Red  – The color of Superman’s cape is red.

Read I read twelve books last month.


AirThe air in Atlanta is polluted.

HeirPrince William is the rightful heir to the throne.                                   


HareThe hare lost the race to the tortoise.

HairUncle Joe has lost so much hair that he’s practically bald.


BareSwimsuit models aren’t afraid to bare their skin.

Bear I can’t bear to watch the zookeeper feed that ferocious grizzly bear!


WieldGangs wield a lot of power in this neighborhood.

WheeledThe server wheeled in the dessert buffet.


ThroughI can’t get through; the road is blocked.

ThrewHe threw a fastball.


But I’d like to go to the party, but I’m not sure if I can make it.

ButtHe stepped on a lit cigarette butt and burned his foot.


DieMost patients who suffer from the disease will die.

DyeShe wants to dye her shoes to match her handbag.


WineWhen consumed in moderation, wine has a number of health benefits.

WhineHe always whines when he doesn’t get his way.


RoadMary passed her road test and got her license.

RodeJohn rode his bicycle home from school.

Rhode (Island)Our aunt lives in Newport, Rhode Island.


PairI have one pair of black socks.

PearI ate a pear with lunch.


TailThe dog is wagging his tail.

Tale My favorite fairy tale is Cinderella.


TimeIt’s time for lunch.

ThymeI’m seasoning my chicken with thyme.


FisherSeals are fishers; they catch fish for food.

FissureThe earthquake caused a fissure in the house’s foundation.


WholeHe ate the whole watermelon.

HoleThe dog dug a hole in the backyard.


BoredHe quickly grew bored of the presenter’s dull speech.

BoardThe board of directors voted unanimously to fire the CEO.


BorePowerPoint presentations are such a bore.

BoarSettlers in this part of the country hunted wild boar to survive.


Ensure To ensure your safety, please fasten your seat belts.

InsureHe’d like to insure his children under his health plan.


SightShe has poor sight and needs to wear glasses.

SiteThis is the perfect site for a new mall.


Mite The dog had a mite in its ear.

MightI might have to leave work early if there’s an emergency.


EffectNausea is a common side effect when taking this medicine.

AffectDon’t let his opinions affect your decision.


BeShe wants to be a butterfly for Halloween.

BeeHis ankle swelled after the bee stung him.


SoHe has so much homework to do.

SewShe decided to sew an extra button on her shirt.


Aunt Aunt Matilda knitted me a scarf for Christmas.

AntThe ant crawled into our picnic basket.   


PoreThey pore over their study materials before every exam.

PourThey pour water over their heads to cool off after a race.


Tore He tore a ligament while playing basketball.

TourWe took a tour of the museum.


WeekI’m coming to visit you next week.

WeakHer illness made her quite weak.


BerryThe berry flavored ice cream is delicious.

BuryThe dog will bury its bones in the backyard.


WhetherThe jury must decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison.

WeatherThe weather in San Francisco is beautiful year-round.


And, just because they deserve a mention, I’ve included a few of the most flagrant spelling blunders that I’ve encountered (sadly) on more than one occasion.  Whatever you do, do NOT make these same mistakes!


CORRECT                   INCORRECT

definitely                       definately

supposedly                   supposably

hindsight                       Heinz sight

judgment                       judgement

kindergarten                kindergarden

tomorrow                      tommorrow

duct tape                       duck tape


 So… What spelling faux-pas and homophone mix-ups have you had the misfortune of reading?  Share below!



10 Responses to “42 commonly confused English words (a.k.a. homophones!)”

  1. Deanna Schrayer said

    Just yesterday I was behind a service van at a red light. I read the logo posted on the back of the van: “Honey-do Service: No job to big, No job to tuff”. The word “tuff” (tough) was bad enough, but to misspell “to”? That made me cringe.
    I just discovered your site via Editor Unleashed’s top 25 writing blogs, and I’m glad I did.

    • Thanks so much, Deanna! It’s amazing that some people don’t bother to double-check their spelling–ESPECIALLY when it’s for their own business! I’ve always said that poor spelling and incorrect grammar can make any business look amateur, at best. At worst? Unscrupulous. Definitely not the kind of message a business person wants to send out!

      Thanks so much for sharing–and for reading my blog. –Rachel

  2. I was guilty of writing ‘Whose on board’ instead of ‘Who’s on board’ once in a blog title – still makes me cringe to this day.

    Great blog title by the way:)

  3. Laura said

    Oh how I love to spot those homophonous errors. They’re everywhere, especially on the Web. And it’s not just Facebook-loving friends who make those mistakes. There are plenty of professional writers and editors who don’t know the difference between “peak” and “peek.” I’ve been keeping track of the grammatical gaffes, spelling slip-ups, and homophone horrors made by the professionals who work for Yahoo!. And you’d be surprised at the number of errors they make every day. You can see the thousands of goofs at Terribly Write:

    Stop by and leave my a comment. I promise not to edit it.

    • Haha, it’s almost addictive, isn’t it? Spotting grammatical errors, that is–particularly in professional copy. Look forward to checking out your site! Thanks for reading and sharing, Laura!

  4. Good post. As an English major, I get pissed off at the T9 on my phone because it will never put an apostrophe for “it’s.”

    Convenience is dumbing down our society, particularly the younger generations.

  5. Paige Barry said

    My favorite is the misuse of anxious and eager. I am eager to start the new project. I am anxious about my next performance review.

    • I agree! (Though, those aren’t quite homophones. More like misnomers, perhaps?) Nevertheless, that irritates me, too! “Anxious” implies nervousness or fear. “Eager” implies excited anticipation. Thanks for sharing, Paige!

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