Are you haunted by homophones?

Oh, those pesky homophones – words that sound alike but are spelled differently and they even catch me with my pants down sometimes and I’ve been a professional writer since the dark ages. And if we are to believe some recent news, getting things like homophones wrong can cost us money.

Here are the popular ones and some simple, non grammar-speak explanations.

Its versus it’s

It’s with an apostrophe is a contraction of it is or it has

Its means something belonging to it

The confusion arises because although there’s no apostrophe when something belongs to it, there is an apostrophe when something belongs to a named person or thing. Have a look at these examples as they will help you understand where the problem comes in…

It is (it’s) over there

It has (it’s) been over there since yesterday

What is (what’s) over there?

Your sweater is (sweater’s) over there

His bed is over there

Her bed is over there

Its bed is over there

Alan’s bed is over there

Meg’s bed is over there

The dog’s bed is over there

Your / you’re

This one’s easy but people often get it wrong. Your describes something that belongs to you, and you’re is a contraction of you are. Some examples:

My book

Your book

His/her book

Their book

I am (I’m)

You are (you’re)

He/she is (he’s/she’s)

They are (they’re)

Their / there / they’re

Why does the English language have to be so ridiculous? This is another very common area of confusion, so here’s how it works in very simple terms…

Their describes something that belongs to them

There shows where something is

They’re is a contraction of they are

My hat

Your hat

His/her hat

Their hats

My hat is over there

Your hat is over there

His/her hat is over there

Their hats are over there

My hat is over there where they’re sitting

Your hat is over there where they’re sitting

His/her hat is over there where they’re sitting

Their hats are over there where they’re sitting

Other common homophone goofs

Ads (short for advertisements) and adds (as in add to something)

Aid (to help, or something that helps) and aide (someone who helps)

Cents (money, coins) scents (smells) and sense (feel, good thinking)

Fir (type of coniferous tree) and fur (animal hair)

Flue (as in chimney) flew (past of to fly) and flu (illness, short for influenza)

Mark (as in spot, place, etc) and marque (brand or type, e.g. car)

New (not having been used before) and knew (as in know)

Pare (to reduce or to peel e.g. fruit) pair (two of something) and pear (a type of fruit)

Queue (line up or to wait in line) and cue (signal, hint or pole used to play snooker or pool)

Rain (weather) rein (part of horse’s bridle) and reign (for royalty to rule)

Sees (looks) seas (bodies of water) and seize (grab hold of)

Shear (cut, break off) and sheer ( almost see-through)

Sight (what you see) and site (place, location)

Stationary (at a standstill) and stationery (writing materials)

Symbol (sign, logo, etc) and cymbal (noisy metal disc drummers bang on)

Through (passing, done) and threw (having thrown something)

Weather (rain, sunshine, etc) and whether (if)

Wholly (completely) holey (containing holes) and holy (religious)

Wright (someone who creates/repairs something) write (to write a letter) rite (act or ritual) and right (direction, correct)

For a very full list of homophones with links to their definitions, there’s a very useful resource at Homophones.com

For another useful resource to check spellings, go to Dictionary.com

Get rid of the ghosts in  your  business writing:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

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  1. Wow! I found this site extraordinarily helpful in remedying some common mistakes we all make when it comes to understanding homophones. Even little things like whether to use it’s vs its may seem like silly questions; however, in our writing and in our speech those are the types of issues most people face regardless of educational level.

    • Hi there White Wordsmith and thanks for dropping by. You’re so right about these little things; no matter how much we’re aware of, say, the difference between “its” and “it’s” it’s (!!) still so easy to get them wrong … all part of the sheer lunacy of the English language, I’m afraid.

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  1. […] 1 July 26, 2011 By SuzanStMaur 4 Comments Tweet Further to my earlier posts about spelling and how important it is to get it right these days – some experts say over 90 percent of online […]

  2. […] 2 August 2, 2011 By SuzanStMaur 3 Comments Tweet Further to my earlier posts about spelling and how important it is to get it right these days – some experts say over 90 percent of online […]

  3. […] if two homophones weren’t enough, you will find three spellings of this sound-alike. “Seas” is a noun that describes oceans and other large bodies of water, while the verb […]

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