Grammar tips: Homophones

homophone meme

Homophones comes from the Greek words “homo” meaning “same” and “phone” meaning “voice or utterance.” They’re words that sound the same but mean something completely different. You know them well – aloud and allowed, compliment and complement, threw and through, paws and pause, pale and pail, ate and eight, knew and new, rode/rowed/road, scent/sent/cent, flew/flue/flu, buy/by/bye, their/there/they’re, your and you’re, it’s and its, two/to/too, and very similar words that are not quite homophones, such as loose and lose, then and than, effect and affect, ensure and insure, and definitely and defiantly. Some homophones are also homographs because they are spelled the same: rose (the flower) and rose (got up or ascended) or bear (the animal) and bear (to tolerate).

Now, we’re getting somewhere. That was fun, wasn’t it? You could keep going with that list. Some others probably came to mind right away.

I bet you might say, “Nah, I don’t have that problem. I use spell check in Word.” Guess again. There are about 25 homophones that most spell checkers won’t catch, according to grammarly.com. Nothing beats knowing the meaning of words or using a dictionary when in doubt. Sometimes, it’s about what part of speech the word is as it’s used in the sentence.

Here’s a small list of common homophones so that you can avoid sounding silly and impress your friends on Facebook and your coworkers in email:

  • Than (making a comparison) or then (sequence of events)
    • You ran faster today than you did yesterday.
    • You ran fast then you took a rest.
  • Two (the number), too (also) and to (toward)
    • I gave two dollars to Sarah, too.
  • Your (possessive) and you’re (you are)
    • You’re very protective of your new car.
  • There (place), their (possession) and they’re (they are)
    • Their home is something they’re proud of. We enjoy going there.
  • A while (noun phrase)or awhile (adverb)
    • It’s been a while since they hung out but they didn’t mind waiting awhile until the next time.
  • Everyday (adjective meaning common or routine) or every day (means each day)
    • He wore his green everyday shirt every day of the week.
  • Accept (to receive) or except (to exclude)
    • Everyone except Jim could accept that the fishing trip was cancelled.
  • Affect (to influence) or effect (something that was influenced)
    • They didn’t realize how the scary special effects would affect the kids.
  • Compliment (noun) or complement (verb)
    • The winemaker received a compliment on the red wine that seemed to complement each dish on the menu.
  • Ensure (make certain), insure (protect financially) or assure (everything’s okay)
    • I want to assure you that my priority is to ensure that my kids stay healthy; so, I insure them on my medical plan.