42 commonly confused English words (a.k.a. homophones!)
Posted by rachelwriter on September 1, 2009
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.
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.
There – There’s a funny smell in there.
Their – Their apartment smells funny.
They’re – They’re trying to clean the apartment to get rid of the funny smell.
Two – I rang the doorbell two times.
Too – I rang the doorbell two times, too.
To – I used to ring the doorbell two times, but I don’t anymore.
Its – The cat likes its new treats.
It’s – It’s interesting that the dog likes the cat’s treats, too.
Sure – I’m sure the hurricane will lose strength before it makes landfall.
Shore – Debris from the hurricane washed up on shore.
Peak – The peak of the mountain is covered in snow.
Peek – Don’t peek! It’s a surprise!
Pique – Here’s how to pique their interest.
Compliment – He paid her such a nice compliment.
Complement – Her shoes complement her dress very well.
Break – Let’s take a break from break dancing before we break something.
Brake – Don’t brake too suddenly or the airbags might deploy.
One – When he asked me to marry him, I knew he was the one.
Won – He won me over with his good looks and charm.
Meet – I’m going to meet my client for lunch.
Meat – I’m going to pick up some fresh meat from the butcher.
Feet – My feet have blisters on them from wearing uncomfortable shoes.
Feat – Negotiating the terms of the treaty was a diplomatic feat.
Toe – Ouch, I stubbed my toe.
Tow – When the car broke down, the mechanic had to tow it back to his garage.
Creek – The children caught tadpoles in the creek.
Creak – The old floorboards may creak when you walk on them.
Read – I prefer to read magazines instead of books.
Reed – The marsh was overgrown with reeds.
Red – The color of Superman’s cape is red.
Read – I read twelve books last month.
Air – The air in Atlanta is polluted.
Heir – Prince William is the rightful heir to the throne.
Hare – The hare lost the race to the tortoise.
Hair – Uncle Joe has lost so much hair that he’s practically bald.
Bare – Swimsuit models aren’t afraid to bare their skin.
Bear – I can’t bear to watch the zookeeper feed that ferocious grizzly bear!
Wield – Gangs wield a lot of power in this neighborhood.
Wheeled – The server wheeled in the dessert buffet.
Through – I can’t get through; the road is blocked.
Threw – He threw a fastball.
But – I’d like to go to the party, but I’m not sure if I can make it.
Butt – He stepped on a lit cigarette butt and burned his foot.
Die – Most patients who suffer from the disease will die.
Dye – She wants to dye her shoes to match her handbag.
Wine – When consumed in moderation, wine has a number of health benefits.
Whine – He always whines when he doesn’t get his way.
Road – Mary passed her road test and got her license.
Rode – John rode his bicycle home from school.
Rhode (Island) – Our aunt lives in Newport, Rhode Island.
Pair – I have one pair of black socks.
Pear – I ate a pear with lunch.
Tail – The dog is wagging his tail.
Tale – My favorite fairy tale is Cinderella.
Time – It’s time for lunch.
Thyme – I’m seasoning my chicken with thyme.
Fisher – Seals are fishers; they catch fish for food.
Fissure – The earthquake caused a fissure in the house’s foundation.
Whole – He ate the whole watermelon.
Hole – The dog dug a hole in the backyard.
Bored – He quickly grew bored of the presenter’s dull speech.
Board – The board of directors voted unanimously to fire the CEO.
Bore – PowerPoint presentations are such a bore.
Boar – Settlers in this part of the country hunted wild boar to survive.
Ensure – To ensure your safety, please fasten your seat belts.
Insure – He’d like to insure his children under his health plan.
Sight – She has poor sight and needs to wear glasses.
Site – This is the perfect site for a new mall.
Mite – The dog had a mite in its ear.
Might – I might have to leave work early if there’s an emergency.
Effect – Nausea is a common side effect when taking this medicine.
Affect – Don’t let his opinions affect your decision.
Be – She wants to be a butterfly for Halloween.
Bee – His ankle swelled after the bee stung him.
So – He has so much homework to do.
Sew – She decided to sew an extra button on her shirt.
Aunt – Aunt Matilda knitted me a scarf for Christmas.
Ant – The ant crawled into our picnic basket.
Pore – They pore over their study materials before every exam.
Pour – They pour water over their heads to cool off after a race.
Tore – He tore a ligament while playing basketball.
Tour – We took a tour of the museum.
Week – I’m coming to visit you next week.
Weak – Her illness made her quite weak.
Berry – The berry flavored ice cream is delicious.
Bury – The dog will bury its bones in the backyard.
Whether – The jury must decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison.
Weather – The 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!
hindsight Heinz sight
duct tape duck tape
So… What spelling faux-pas and homophone mix-ups have you had the misfortune of reading? Share below!