Homonyms and Homophones

01.02.2016 |

Episode #6 of the course “The basics of English writing” by Sarah Stanley


Whether you see someone getting berated on social media for saying “your not very nice” or read a news story about a school printing “good luck out their!” in their graduation program, homonyms and homophones are all over the place.

A “homonym” is defined as: “each of two or more words having the same spelling but different meanings and origins (e.g., pole and pole); a homograph” and “each of two words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling (e.g., to, too, and two); a homophone.”

Knowing which word to use in what situation is another critical skill that a good writer has perfected. The best way to avoid using the wrong word is to learn the most common homophones and memorize their correct usage.

Here are some of the most commonly confused words that you should know how to correctly use:



Use than for comparisons: John is much taller than his brother.

Use then to indicate passage of time, or when: We went to the park in the morning, and then we left to pick up lunch.



Are is a verb in present tense, a form of the verb “to be”: We are staying at the hotel closest to the stadium.

Our is an an adjectival pronoun, the plural possessive form of we: They will bring our keys to the hotel lobby.



Use accept as a verb to mean receive: The organization will accept donations through the first of the month.

Use except as a preposition to mean exclude:  You may donate all items except car seats and cribs.



There can act as different parts of speech depending on how it is used in a sentence. Most commonly, it is used as a pronoun or adverb.

There will be a lot to eat at the party tonight.  (pronoun)

Put the book over there.  (adverb)

Their is a pronoun: The students put their coats in the closet.

They’re is the contraction for they are: They’re going to have practice immediately after school today.



To can be a preposition: We’re going to the park.

To can indicate an infinitive when it precedes a verb: We want to help in any way we can.

Too is an adverb that can mean excessively when it precedes an adjective or adverb: I ate too much ice cream for dessert.

Too is a synonym for also: I ate too much ice cream for dessert, too.

Two is a number: Marcy ate two pieces of pie.



You’re is a contraction for you are: You’re going to absolutely love this new recipe.

Your is a pronoun: Please bring your books to class with you tomorrow.



It’s is the contraction for it is: It’s raining today, so the baseball game will be cancelled.

Its is the possessive form (“possessive” means belongs to) of it: The cat is licking its paws.



Recommended book

“The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr.


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