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60 homophones you need to know:
what are homonyms, homographs and homophones?

Posted on July 18, 2023

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What is a homonym?

Homonyms are two or more words that are spelled or pronounced the same but have different meanings. Homonyms can be homophones, homographs or both.

What is a homograph?

Homographs are two or more words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.

E.g. lead, tear or wound.

What is a homophone?

Homophones are two or more words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.

E.g. bear and bare.

Many homophones are spelled differently, so it’s important to understand the different meanings so that a homophone can be used in the appropriate context. The following list is not exhaustive, but it contains the homophones that I most often see confused.

1. Accept or except?

  • accept – to take or receive

  • except – not including, other than

2. Affect or effect?

  • affect – an action or change

  • effect – the result of an action or change

3. Aid or aide?

  • aid – to help or assist someone

  • aide – an assistant

4. Ball or bawl?

  • ball – a solid or hollow spherical object used in a game or sport; to form or gather (something) into a ball; a large formal gathering for social dancing

  • bawl – to yell or bellow; to cry loudly (and often uncontrollably)

5. Bare or bear?

  • bare – exposed, or lacking the usual or appropriate covering (e.g. bare skin); basic and simple (e.g. bare facts)

  • bear – to carry, produce or endure something (e.g. bear fruit, bear pain, bear with me); a large, heavy mammal with thick fur and a short tail

6. Beach or beech?

  • beach – a seashore or lakeshore, usually gently sloping and covered with sand or pebbles; to run or drive (e.g. a boat) ashore

  • beech – any of several species of hardwood deciduous trees with smooth grey bark and small edible triangular nuts

7. Board or bored?

  • board – a flat (usually rectangular) piece of material; an organising body (examination board); to cover or seal off (board up); to get onto a vehicle (a ship, train, etc.); to provide regular meals (and lodging) for a fixed price

  • bored – feeling uninterested in something; past tense of bore (drill or cause boredom)

8. Brake or break?

  • brake – a device for stopping or slowing down a vehicle; to slow down or stop the progress of something (put the brakes on)

  • break – to separate suddenly or violently into two of more pieces; to cause something (e.g. a machine) to stop working; to interrupt or stop something (break someone’s concentration); to fail to keep to a law, promise or rule. Break has multiple meanings – these are just a few (it takes up a page in my dictionary!)

9. Complement or compliment?

  • complement – something that completes or enhances something else

  • compliment – an expression (or act) of respect, praise or admiration

10. Desert or dessert?

  • desert – dry land; to leave or abandon (something or someone)

  • dessert – sweet dish served as the final course of a meal (e.g. pudding)

11. Ensure or insure?

  • ensure – to make (something) certain

  • insure – to protect (something) against damage or loss

12. Faint or feint?

  • faint – lacking in brightness, vividness, loudness, etc. (e.g. a faint sound); feeble or slight (e.g. faint resistance, faint hope); feeling weak or dizzy; about to lose consciousness or to lose consciousness temporarily

  • feint – a movement made in order to deceive an opponent; an attack directed towards a point or place as a distraction from the real point or place of attack; to lure or deceive, or to make a pretence of (e.g. an assumed appearance)

13. Grey or gray?

  • grey – this spelling is more common in British English (also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand)

  • gray – this spelling is more common in American English

*In proper names, the spelling stays the same. E.g. Earl Grey tea and greyhound are always spelled with an E; grayling (a type of fish) and gray (the unit of measurement – radiation) are always spelled with an A.

14. Heal or heel?

  • heal – to make (a wound, etc.) healthy, whole or sound; to restore to health; to mend (e.g. a breach between friends)

  • heel – the back part of a human foot below the ankle; the back part of a vertebrate’s hind limb that is similar in structure to the human heel; the part of the palm of the hand nearest the wrist; the part of an article of footwear that covers or supports the heel; (of a dog) to follow closely behind

15. Hear or here?

  • hear – to perceive sound with the ear; to listen or pay attention to; to learn something by hearing (I heard you were leaving)

  • here – in or at this place; to this place or position (come here); at this place or position (it’s a short distance from here)

16. Idle or idol?

  • idle – not occupied or employed; doing nothing; lazy

  • idol – an image or representation (e.g. of a god) used as an object of worship; a person or thing regarded with admiration or devotion

17. It’s or its?

  • it’s – contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’

  • its – (shows possession) belonging to or associated with a thing previously mentioned or easily identified

18. Knead or need?

  • knead – to work and press (something soft, e.g. dough) with the hands; to manipulate or massage by similar movements

  • need – to require or be in need of (something); to be constrained or required to do something

19. Knew or new?

  • knew – past tense of know

  • new – recently bought, made, built, etc.; just invented or discovered; fresh or unused

20. Knob or nob?

  • knob – a projecting part (usually rounded) forming the handle of a door, drawer, etc.; a small piece or lump (e.g. butter); coarse slang (British) for the male reproductive organ

  • nob – a person’s head (slang); a jack of the same suit as the starter in cribbage that scores one point for the holder (usually used in the phrases ‘his nob’ or ‘his nobs’); a person in a superior position in life (e.g. wealthy or influential)

21. Knock or nock?

  • knock – to strike (a surface) with the knuckles or a hard object; to drive, force, make or remove (something) by striking; to cause one thing to collide with another, or things to collide with each other.

     *knockers: coarse slang for a female’s breasts

  • nock – a notch cut at the end of an archer’s bow to hold the string; a notch in the arrow into which the bowstring fits; to fit an arrow to a bowstring

22. Knot or not?

  • knot – a looping or interlacing of rope, string, etc. pulled tight to form a fastening or lump; a tangled mass (e.g. of hair); something hard to solve; the cross section of the base of a branch that appears in timber as a rounded area; unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour

  • not – used to make a word or a group of words negative; used as an interjection to indicate that a previous statement is untrue

23. Know or no?

  • know – to be aware of or have information about (something); to perceive or understand; to have practical understanding or experience of (something); to recognise or identify (somebody or something)

  • no – used to express refusal, denial, dissent or negation; not any (e.g. no money, no parking, etc.); used as an interjection to express disbelief

24. Knows, noes or nose?

  • knows – third person singular in the simple present tense of know (e.g. she knows how to fix the problem)

  • noes (or nos) – plural of no *the plural of yes is yeses (or yesses)

  • nose – the part of the face above the mouth on a person, or animal, that contains the nostrils and is used for breathing and smelling; the snout or muzzle of an animal; to sniff or scent something; to push or move with the nose

25. Leak or leek?

  • leak – to enter or escape through a crack or hole (said of a liquid, gas, etc.); to give out information secretly; the act of urinating (informal)

  • leek – a plant that is related to onion and garlic that is commonly grown for its mildly pungent leaves and thick white edible stalk and bulb

26. Licence or license?

  • licence – (British noun) permission granted by competent authority to engage in a particular business, occupation or activity that would otherwise be unlawful (e.g. driving a vehicle, selling alcohol, etc.); a document giving evidence of such permission; freedom of action

  • license – (British verb) to give official permission (to somebody) to do something (e.g. to drive a vehicle, sell alcohol, etc.); the American English spelling for the noun and verb

27. Moor or more?

  • moor – an expanse of open uncultivated, peaty land that is typically overgrown by heathers, grasses, etc. (British); to fasten or secure (a vessel or buoy) with cables, lines, etc.

  • more – greater in quantity, quality or number; additional (amount) e.g. three more people, not much more to do, etc.

28. Pain or pane?

  • pain – physical suffering or distress due to an injury, illness, etc.; mental or emotional distress; somebody or something that is a nuisance

  • pane – a piece, section or side of something (e.g. a framed sheet of glass in a window or door)

29. Pair, pare or pear?

  • pair – two corresponding things usually used together (e.g. a pair of shoes); two corresponding body parts (e.g. a pair of eyes); a single thing made up of two connected corresponding pieces (e.g. a pair of jeans, a pair of scissors, etc.)

  • pare – to cut or shave off the outer surface of something (to peel it); to reduce or remove by diminishing or decreasing gradually, and often followed by ‘down’ (e.g. pare down one’s expenses)

  • pear – edible fruit, typically rounded, which widens at the end furthest from the stalk

30. Passed or past?

  • passed – past tense and past participle of ‘to pass’, i.e. having completed the act of passing (e.g. I passed the bus stop on my way to the park); having received a passing grade in an examination or test

  • past – just gone or elapsed in time (for the past few days); having gone by earlier (in years past); finished or ended (autumn is past); subsequent to (a time), e.g. half past six; beyond the capacity, range or sphere of something (e.g. she’s past ninety, past belief, etc.); to pass by or beyond (e.g. the dog ran past the bus stop)

31. Peace or piece?

  • peace – state of tranquillity or quiet; state of mutual harmony between people or groups; public order and security maintained by law or custom (a breach of the peace); freedom from disquieting and oppressive thoughts and emotions (e.g. peace of mind)

  • piece – a part of a whole, such as a fragment (e.g. glass), or a portion or allocation (e.g. piece of land), or one of the elements from which something is made (e.g. a piece of a jigsaw); an object or individual comprising a unit of a kind or class (e.g. a piece of fruit); a literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work; a statement of someone’s opinion or view (e.g. I’ve said my piece, I’ll give them a piece of my mind)

32. Peak, peek or pique?

  • peak – the pointed top of a mountain, ridge or hill; a mountain with a pointed top; the projecting part on the front of a cap or hood; the highest level or greatest degree (e.g. an artist at the peak of their popularity

  • peek – to take a brief look, or to glance; to peer through a crack or hole, or from a place of concealment; to stick up or out, so as to be just visible

  • pique – to cause anger or resentment in somebody by offending or insulting them; resentment resulting from wounded pride, or the bad temper that results from this; to provoke interest or curiosity

33. Peal or peel?

  • peal – the loud ringing of bells; a loud prolonged sound (e.g. peals of laughter)

  • peel – the skin or rind of a fruit or vegetable; to strip off the outer layer of something (e.g. a vegetable); to remove something by stripping it (she peeled the label off the can); to lose an outer layer (e.g. of skin)

34. Plain or plane?

  • plain – not fancy or decorated; free of added substances; clear or distinct to the eye or ear (e.g. to stand in plain view); conveying the meaning clearly and simply (e.g. plain language)

  • plane – a flat or level surface; a level of existence, consciousness or development; (informal) an aeroplane; (of a bird) to glide or soar; tool with a sharp blade for smoothing or shaping a wooden surface; to make a (wooden) surface flat or even with a plane; a large deciduous tree with deeply cut lobed leaves and thin bark

35. Poor, pore or pour?

  • poor – having little or no money, goods or other means of support; of or characterised by poverty; less than adequate (meagre) or lacking in something specified; inferior in quality, value, skill, etc.

  • pore – to study something closely or attentively; a minute opening in a surface (e.g. the skin) through which liquids or gases may pass

  • pour – to cause a liquid or anything in loose particles (e.g. powder) to flow or fall from one container to another, or into, over or on something; to supply or produce (something) freely or copiously

36. Practice or practise?

  • practice – (British noun) regular or repeated exercise in order to acquire skill in an activity; work in a profession; the work, business and connections of a professional person; the American English spelling for the noun and the verb

  • practise – (British verb) to perform or work at (an activity) repeatedly so as to become proficient in it; to carry out or perform (a particular activity) regularly or habitually

37. Rain, reign or rein?

  • rain – water falling in drops condensed from vapour in the atmosphere; a dense flow or fall of something

  • reign – the time during which somebody or something reigns; royal authority or sovereignty (or to possess or exercise sovereign power)

  • rein – to check or stop (a horse) by pulling on the reins; to restrain or stop something

38. Rap or wrap?

  • rap – to strike (something) hard with a sharp blow or knock, or the sound made by it; a sharp rebuke or criticism; the responsibility for or the adverse consequences of an action (informal); a type of music of African American origin characterised by rapidly chanted lyrics accompanied by music

  • wrap – to cover, pack or enfold (something or somebody) in something flexible (e.g. paper or fabric); to finish filming or recording something (informal); in computing, to cause (text) to be automatically carried over to the next line; an article of clothing that may be wrapped around a person (e.g. a shawl)

39. Real or reel?

  • real – actual or authentic (not artificial, fraudulent, illusory or fictional); significant (this poses a real problem); very, really, etc. (used for emphasis)

  • reel – a small spool for sewing thread (British); a small wheel at the butt of a fishing rod for winding the line; a spool with a projecting rim (e.g. for photographic film); to wind (something) on or as if on a reel; to draw or entice (something or somebody) slowly and steadily; a lively Scottish-Highland or Irish dance

40. Reek or wreak?

  • reek – a strong or unpleasant smell (noun); to give off a strong or unpleasant smell (verb)

  • wreak – to cause or create havoc or destruction; to inflict or carry out vengeance

41. Right, rite, wright or write?

  • right – in accordance with what is morally good, just or proper; suitable or appropriate; conforming to facts or truth (e.g. the right answer); of, relating to, or situated on the side opposite to where the observer’s heart is; of the right or right wing in politics

  • rite – a ceremonial act or action, or a prescribed form of words or actions for this purpose

  • wright – a person who makes or creates a specified thing (e.g. shipwright, playwright, etc.)

  • write – to form characters, symbols or words on a surface; to set down in writing; to describe (something) in or as if in writing

42. Ring or wring?

  • ring – (1) a circular band (usually of precious metal) worn on the finger for adornment; a circular band for holding, connecting, hanging, moving or fastening; a circular line, figure, arrangement or object; an electric element or gas burner in the shape of a circle, set into the top of a cooker, etc., which provides a source of heat for cooking; a space, sometimes circular, for exhibitions or competitions; (2) to encircle or place or form a ring around (somebody or something); (3) to make the sound of a bell or something similar; to sound resonantly or repeatedly

  • wring – to twist or compress something (especially so as to extract liquid); to exact or extort (something) by coercion or with difficulty; to twist something (so as to break it)

43. Rung or wrung?

  • rung – past participle of ‘ring’ (3) (to make the sound of a bell or something similar; to sound resonantly or repeatedly); any of the crosspieces of a ladder; a level or stage in something that can be ascended

  • wrung – past tense and past participle of ‘wring’

44. Scald or scold?

  • scald – to injure or burn (something or somebody) with hot liquid or steam; to immerse (something) in boiling liquid or steam; to bring a liquid almost to boiling point

  • scold – to find fault with (somebody) angrily (rebuke, reprimand)

45. Sea or see? Or C?

  • sea – the salt waters that cover much of the earth; (broadly) the waters of the earth as distinguished from the land and air; a large more or less landlocked body of salt water

  • see – to perceive (something or somebody) with the eyes; to look at or inspect something; to experience or be aware of (something)

  • C – the third letter of the English alphabet; one of the English consonants

46. Shoe or shoo?

  • shoe – outer covering for the human foot that does not extend above the ankle and has a stiff sole and an upper part made of lighter material; a metal plate for the hoof of an animal (e.g. horseshoe); to fit with a shoe (e.g. a horse)

  • shoo –  to scare or drive away (an animal) by shouting ‘shoo’

     *shoo-in – somebody who is a certain and easy winner (e.g. a contestant)

47. Stake or steak?

  • stake – a stick or post that’s pointed at one end for driving into the ground as a marker or support; a post to which a person is bound for execution by burning; to claim ownership of something (e.g. a plot of land); something that is staked for gain or loss (e.g. money, someone’s reputation)

     *stake out – to keep (a suspect) under police surveillance

  • steak – a thick slice of meat or fish (or other food prepared in the same manner as a steak) suitable for grilling or frying (e.g. beef steak, salmon steak, tofu steak)

48. Stationary or stationery?

  • stationary – having a fixed position (not movable); standing still (not moving)

  • stationery – office supplies used for writing or typing (e.g. pens, pencils, paper, envelopes, etc.)

49. Steal or steel?

  • steal – to take property belonging to another without permission; to use something (e.g. an idea) without right or acknowledgement; (informal) a bargain (e.g. it’s a steal)

  • steel – strong, hard metal alloy made of iron with carbon; unyielding strength suggestive of steel (e.g. nerves of steel)

50. Tail or tale?

  • tail – the rear end of the body of an animal; the back or last part of something; the reverse of a coin, usually used in plural (Heads you win, tails you lose); to follow (somebody) for purposes of surveillance

  • tale – a series of facts or events told or presented; a fictitious narrative (a story); a false statement (lie); a malicious report or piece of gossip

51. Their, there or they’re?

  • their – (shows possession) belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified

  • there – specifies a place or location

  • they’re – contraction of ‘they are’

52. Threw or through?

  • threw – past tense of throw

  • through – in at one end, side or surface, and out at the other (they took the shortcut through the park); past or beyond (he drove through a red light); all the way from beginning to end; to a favourable or successful conclusion

53. To, too or two?

  • to – used to indicate motion or direction towards a point, person, place or object (to and fro); used to indicate possession (key to the door), accompaniment (danced to music), relationship (next to me), or proportion (won by 5 points to 3); used to introduce an infinitive form of a verb (to talk, to find)

  • too – also or in addition (can I go too?); excessively (I’m too full to eat any more)

  • two – the number 2

54. Waive or wave?

  • waive – to relinquish or refrain from demanding or enforcing (waive one’s right)

  • wave – to gesture with (the hand, fingers or something held in the hand) in greeting, farewell or respect; (of an object) to flutter, brandish or sway; to give a curving or undulating shape to (something); a moving ridge or swell on the surface of a liquid (e.g. the sea); a surge of sensation or emotion; a mass movement of (e.g. people)

55. Waiver or waver?

  • waiver – relinquishing of a right or the document giving proof of this

  • waver – to sway unsteadily; to be unable to decide (between choices); to flicker (wavering flames); to

     hesitate or falter

56. Wander or wonder?

  • wander – to go or travel idly or aimlessly; to follow along a winding course; to deviate from a course (to stray); to lose concentration (her mind began to wander)

  • wonder – rapt attention, admiration or astonishment at something unexpected, strange, beautiful, etc.; to feel curiosity or doubt (to speculate)

57. Weather or whether?

  • weather – the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, moisture, wind, cloudiness, etc.; to expose or subject (something) to the weather; to endure or resist exposure to the weather

  • whether – (if) used for indirect questions and expressing doubts (he couldn’t decide whether to stay); used to indicate a choice between two or more possibilities (he didn’t know whether she was laughing or crying)

58. Wet or whet?

  • wet – consisting of, or covered or soaked in liquid (water); said of weather (rainy); still moist enough to smudge or smear (wet paint); involving the use or presence of liquid (wet processes); (British, informal) said of a person feeble, ineffectual or dull

  • whet – to increase someone’s interest in or wish for something (e.g. whet her appetite, whet his curiosity); to sharpen (a blade) by rubbing on or with something (e.g. a stone)

59. Who’s or whose?

  • who’s – contraction of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’

  • whose – (shows possession) belonging to or associated with which person

60. Your or you’re?

  • your – (shows possession) belonging to or associated with the person or people the speaker is addressing

  • you’re – contraction of ‘you are’

Very professional but also very tactful ...

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