A reader left the following comment inquiring about the spelling of two sets of homophones:
“I have trouble with witch/which (and even so, I am not sure I have those right) and weather/wheather [sic]. any good ideas on how to keep them straight???”
I’ve already written a post addressing the difference between weather and whether.
Today, I’ll share some tips to help you remember how to toggle comfortably between the homophones which and witch.
First, We Spell Our Homophones
Spelling is too appropriate, since we are discussing witches (Get it? Spell). The first step is to memorize the correct spelling of both words: Read more
A while back, I was chatting with a friend when she casually mentioned she had plans to spend an evening helping out another friend of hers with some work that needed to be done. I asked, “What kind of work?”
“She’s an English teacher. I’m going to help her grade papers.”
I experienced a moment of envy. “That sounds like fun,” I said. I love perusing written documents in search of typos, misspellings, and other grammatical mistakes. What can I say? I always endorse good grammar. Read more
One of our readers wrote in to ask about the homophones too and to:
I was trying to find something on how and when to use “to and too” I am having trouble in that area. I have trouble with that a lot and I tend to mess up with that. Can you help and do you already have something posted about that? I can’t find anything on it.
There’s actually a third homophone in this group, which sounds like too and to, although it’s not mixed up with them as often as they are mixed up with each other. That would be the word for the numeral 2, which is two.
Even though they have distinctly different meanings and spellings, these words can be confusing because they sound exactly alike. Read more
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. They confuse readers and writers, and are often the source of frustrating spelling mistakes.
There are lots of tricks available, to help you differentiate between homophones. In some cases, you can use mnemonics to remember which spelling to use. In other cases, you just have to memorize the words, their meanings, and their spellings.
In any case, it helps to understand the structure of language so that you can more easily recognize words (including homophones) and how to use (and spell) them properly.
For example, knowing how to diagram a sentence and being able to identify parts of speech will give you an advantage when it comes to telling the difference between homophones.
Weather and Whether
The words weather and whether are typical homophones and especially confusing ones. They sound exactly alike and are spelled quite similarly. A third, incorrect spelling often appears, which is a combination of the two spellings (wheather). Luckily, they have vastly different meanings and there are some tricks we can use to remember all of them.
Wheather is NOT a word
It would make perfect sense if the spelling w-h-e-a-t-h-e-r were used for the word that refers to the climate outdoors because embedded in that spelling is the word heat. Unfortunately, this spelling simply does not exist. There is no heat. So if you’re using either of these homophones, remember that the letter string h-e-a-t should not appear. No heat.
This word is a NOUN and it deals with sunshine and storms. It may not be 100% tangible but we can certainly feel the weather on our skin when we step outside.
Ever notice that the weather affects your appetite? On cold days soup sounds tasty and on hot days, nothing hits the spot like an ice cream or an icy slush. Yes, the weather may help you decide what to eat. Notice that the word eat is conveniently buried inside the word weather.
This word is a conjunction, close relative of the famous and, or, but, and yet, and it’s often used to determine something: tell me whether or not you’ve finished this blog post.
Using the phrase whether he writes or not, we can form a mnemonic device that will help us remember how to spell this homophone.
You see, the only difference in spelling between the two homophones weather and whether is that after the w, one has the letters ea and the other has the letters he. As I’m sure you realize, he is an actual word (ea is not, in case you were wondering).
If you can remember the phrase, whether he writes or not, you can easily recall that whether, which is a conjunction, has he within its spelling. Say it over and over: whether he, whether he, whether he. You’ll have it memorized in no time.
Got any tips you’d like to add for remembering how to tell the difference between these homophones? Have a grammar question of your own or a set of homphones that give you aches and pains? Leave a comment!
When we’re writing, we run into a lot of technical issues. Where do the quotation marks go? When is it correct to use a comma? How should titles be formatted?
Some of these questions are answered by the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But other questions are not addressed by grammar. There’s no official rule for how to format a title.
We writers need trusted resources that we can use to resolve all of these issues, especially if we want to produce work that is both grammatically correct and stylistically consistent.
Style guides answer grammatical questions and provide guidelines for consistency. But there are lots of different style guides, from the The AP Stylebook to the The Chicago Manual of Style. Which one should you use?
Who Uses Style Guides?
- Students, scholars, and other members of academia
- Scientists, doctors, and those who work in specialized fields such as law or government
- Journalists and reporters
- Any writers who want their work to be consistent should use a style guide
What, Exactly, is a Style Guide?
A style guide is a manual that establishes rules for language, spelling, formatting, and punctuation. Within academia, these guides also provide standards for citations, references, and bibliographies. Many disciplines have their very own style guide, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
According to Wikipedia, “…consistency is the major purpose of these style guides. They are rulebooks for writers, ensuring consistent language.”
These manuals promote good grammar and ensure consistency in areas where grammar is unclear. Style guides answer all those burly writing questions that are absent from the rules of grammar. Yet at the same time, the average style guide also answers those questions that deal specifically with the rules of good grammar. Basically, it’s an all-purpose writing resource.
Where Do I Get One?
You should be able to pick up any standard style guide at your local library or bookstore. University libraries and college bookstores should have a greater selection of specialized style guides. Of course, you can always order through Amazon or the online book seller of your choice.
Many large companies and corporations use their own internal style guides, so if you are writing for a such an organization, they may need to provide you with their own style guide.
When is a Style Guide Appropriate?
A style guide is almost always appropriate. Since a style guide’s primary function is to render a work consistent and ensure good grammar, any work will benefit from its application. That includes creative writing, freelance writing, and blogging!
In many cases, a style guide is not only appropriate, it’s mandatory. If you’re writing for submission, it’s a good idea to check a publication’s submission guidelines to see if they require writers to use particular style guide.
Why Should I Use a Style Guide?
A style guide will make your work more consistent. Did you use a serial comma in the first paragraph, but leave it out in the third? Have you used italics in one post to refer to a book title, but in another post used quotation marks?
By establishing standards, a style guide will help you streamline your work. After you’ve used a particular set of guidelines for awhile, the writing process will flow more smoothly since you won’t have to stop and deliberate on grammar and style. Your readers will be pleased too, since inconsistency causes confusion.
How Do I Choose?
In many cases, the matter of which style guide to use is not left up to the writer. As mentioned, publishers will provide guidelines explaining which style guide is required.
Most newspapers adhere to The Associated Press Stylebook on Briefing on Media Law (often called The AP Stylebook), whereas a small press publisher might ask you to use The Elements of Style (often referred to as Strunk and White). Professors and teachers generally require students to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition.
What about freelance writers, bloggers, fiction writers, and everyone else?
The most popular style guide for general use is The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is also the style guide commonly used for manuscripts (i.e. novels and anthologies). Many other writing guides are based on Chicago or will defer to it for any areas of style that they do not specifically address. It covers formatting, includes rules for good grammar usage, and provides a roadmap that ensures your work is mechanically consistent.
For general use, Chicago is by far one of the best writing resources on the market, and for me, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my own writing career.
Which Style Guide Should You Use?
If you’re writing for a newspaper, you might want to go with AP. I’m not a big fan of AP because much of their style is dictated by saving space for the printing press (thus the absence of the serial comma). I think Chicago is more useful for freelancing and copywriting as well as authoring and blogging.
However, having both won’t hurt, and any serious writer would be wise to start building a collection of style guides that might prove useful throughout the course of one’s career.
So, do you use a style guide, and if so, which one? Are there other writing resources that you can’t live without? Share your favorites in the comments.
Homophones confuse some people and annoy others. I often see people online complaining about other people who can’t differentiate between the spellings of homophones like your and you’re; they’re, their, and there, and of course, its and it’s.
While I find these mistakes mildly annoying, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call them pet peeves and I don’t feel any particular urge to vent or publicly complain about other people’s ability to spell (unless I’m discussing the quality of education in my country).
Just because the confusion of its and it’s makes me crinkle my nose a little does not mean that if I see this mistake I’m going to stop reading your blog or throw your novel into the recycling bin. It’s really not that big of a deal and is exactly the kind of typo that’s outweighed by good, strong writing.
However, I feel that writers need to take a little pride in their work. That means learning how to spell small, three-letter words and spell them correctly.
But I get it. Its and it’s are among the most difficult homophones to learn. I remember back in high school, I avoided using them altogether–simply because I was too lazy to look them up. To make matters even more confusing, these two rebellious homophones thwart the standard rules of good grammar and proper English.
Its vs. It’s
According to Wikipedia, the word it is a “third-person singular neuter (it) – used for objects and animals whose sex is unknown and as a dummy subject, e.g. ‘It is raining.’”
One of the most common spelling mistakes known to the English language occurs when people try to add possession or pluralization to the word it. Interestingly, this word cannot be pluralized, but it can be paired with the word is (it is) and then contracted (it’s).
Confused yet? Let’s clarify.
Its: the Exception to the Rule
Normally we add an s to words that we want to pluralize, and we add an apostrophe-s to show possession. A third form is adding an s followed by an apostrophe to show plural possession.
Plural: girls (more than one girl)
Possessive: girl’s (belonging to a girl)
Plural Possessive: girls’ (belonging to all the girls)
Luckily, it is always singular, so we need not ever worry about making it plural. There’s no such thing as “more than one it” (we would forgo it and use them or they). That means we can also skip over the plural possession of it entirely.
But what about when it owns something?
You’d expect that to show ownership, you’d simply add apostrophe-s to the word it. But that’s not the case. As I mentioned earlier, it has chosen to ignore the normal rules of grammar. So, we do it in reverse.
When it owns something, we add the s without the apostrophe, and we get its.
There is the car. It has wheels. Its wheels are round.
See? No apostrophe when something belongs to it.
It’s Not Plural or Possessed
The word it’s is neither plural nor possessive. When the apostrophe-s is added to the word it, you’ve got a contraction, or a shortening of two words. In this case, the phrase it is is being shortened or contracted.
If you have a hard time remembering this, try saying your sentence or phrase by replacing its or it’s with it is. If it is works, then you have a contraction and the apostrophe is required. If not, then you have possession and just an s, without the apostrophe, will do.
Got any handy tips for remembering the difference between its and it’s? Share yours in the comments!
Are there any homophones that constantly confuse you? How about ones that grate on your nerves when others use them incorrectly? Talk about it in the comments.
When I see professional signs or business documents with words spelled incorrectly, it’s like someone’s dragging nails down a chalkboard, which is something I don’t want to hear.
But I try not to get too riled up. I know that spelling isn’t easy for everyone. However, I do believe that with a little effort, anyone can learn the proper spelling of a word.
I also realize that homophones present a special challenge because when two words sound exactly alike but are spelled differently, we have to work a little harder to remember which spelling goes with which definition.
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and different meanings. These confusing words have instigated many headaches among writers, editors, and readers as well as the general population.
Some homophones are easier to master than others. Luckily, today, one of our homophones has an easy, built-in way to remember what it means and how it’s spelled.
To learn more about homophones in general and to find out about other word groups with similar pronunciations and confusing spellings, read Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs.
Hear and Here
The words “hear” and “here” have similar spellings and are pronounced exactly the same, but they have very different meanings. According to dictionary.com, here are the basic definitions of these homophones:
Hear (verb) – to perceive by the ear. I hear music.
Here (adverb) – in this place; in this spot or locality (as opposed to there). You are there and I am here.
Once you know what these words mean and that they have completely different definitions, all you have to do is find a way to remember when to use them properly in context. To do that, focus on the word “hear.” Take a close look at it and you’ll see that “hear” is simply the word “ear” with the letter h in front of it. And since you hear with your ear(s), it shouldn’t be difficult to remember that when you’re using the word “hear” in reference to listening or taking in sounds, you should use the spelling that has the word “ear” embedded in it.
Past Tense of Hear
The word “hear” is a bonus homophone because its past tense, “heard,” is also a homophone in its own right. Don’t confuse “heard” (as in I heard that song yesterday) with “herd” (as in Did you see that herd of buffalo?). Again, just remember that if it’s related to listening, it should have the word “ear” within its spelling.
Do you have any tricks you use to remember the difference between “hear” and “here?” Are there any other homophones that give you trouble? Share your tips and questions by leaving a comment.
Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, is grammar?
According to Wikipedia:
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules….Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.
Technically speaking, in linguistics and academia, spelling and punctuation are not components of grammar. When we discuss the mechanics of writing, we don’t refer to grammar. We refer to grammar, spelling, and punctuation because they are separate components that provide the rules for written language.
So how is grammar meaningful if words aren’t spelled properly and if punctuation isn’t applied correctly in a piece of writing? Aren’t spelling and punctuation critical to the structure of written language?
Grammar and Orthography
There are two common ways that language manifests. It is either spoken or written. Grammar deals with how we structure the language, and it is applied to both speech and writing. Orthography, on the other hand, addresses the rules of a language’s writing system or script.
Orthography deals with spelling and punctuation because these elements are only relevant when the language is written.
After all, when you say a sentence aloud, you don’t say period, question mark, or exclamation point at the end. However, if you’re reading the sentence aloud, you need these punctuation marks to help you navigate the text, and they also provide cues that inform the way we stress words or inflect the reading.
Proper Grammar and Popular Grammar
I’m not a linguist. I’m a writer. I’m interested in linguistics and etymology, but only to the extent that these fields of study inform my writing and can help me better understand how to use the tools of my craft.
Grammar addresses how we structure our language and includes concepts such as tense agreement, modifiers, sentence diagramming, word order in a sentence, and sentence order in a paragraph.
But when we’re dealing with written language, proper spelling is just as essential as tense agreement. It would be quite difficult to get through a written text that was not punctuated or if the majority of the words were spelled incorrectly.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Good Grammar
Oddly, I’ve found that spelling and punctuation are misused far more than structural (or grammatical) elements in writing. Most people know how to put their words in order and a writer of average skill is usually good at verb and tense agreements and other aspects of writing that would be construed as grammatical in nature.
Yet plenty of folks struggle with orthography (punctuation and spelling) even if their grammar is in good order. This makes sense because we are primarily exposed to spelling and punctuation through reading and writing. But the structure of our language comes to us through listening and speaking as well.
In other words, we writers are probably far more immersed in grammar than we are in orthography.
Putting it All Together
Technically speaking, grammar may not include spelling and punctuation, but without all of these elements in our writing, proper grammar does not equate good grammar. We talk about grammar, spelling, and punctuation because these are separate, but related, elements that work together to produce a mechanically coherent piece of writing.
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Sometimes, they’re also spelled differently. Compliment and complement are two such words.
Since homophones sound the same, they are often misspelled. Sometimes they’re misspelled because the writer doesn’t know there are two different spellings. In other cases, misspelled homophones are the result of typing too fast or failing to proofread carefully.
Spell check will not catch these typos because the spelling is legitimate, but it’s for a word with a different meaning.
To make it easier to remember which spelling goes with which meaning, we can use mnemonic devices, which are memory tricks. Today, we’re going to learn how to remember the difference between the homophones compliment and complement.
Homophones: Compliment and Complement
The meanings of these two words are fairly similar. However, there is a difference.
Compliment can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates an expression of admiration, a formal act of regard, or good wishes. When you pay someone a compliment, you say something nice about them. To send someone your compliments is to send your regards.
As a verb, compliment simply means the act of offering a compliment. You might compliment someone’s clothes or hair. An act of kindness can also be expressed with the verb compliment: She complimented you by buying one of your books.
Like its homophone, complement can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates something that completes, enhances, or perfects another thing. You can use complement for things that go well together:
Root beer complements pizza.
It can also mean a full quantity:
There is a full complement of passengers on the plane.
As a verb, complement is simply the action form of the noun: Root beer really complements this pizza (goes well with).
Be aware that complement has many other related but more detailed definitions that are industry- or field-specific. These are applied in areas of grammar, mathematics, music, and medicine.
Mnemonic Tips for Remembering the Homophones Compliment and Complement
The only difference between the spelling of the words compliment and complement is that one has the letter i in the middle and the other has the letter e in the middle. So, all you have to do is figure out whether you need an i or an e.
The opposite of a compliment is an insult. Since insult starts with the letter i, ask whether the opposite is an insult. If it is, then you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-i-m-e-n-t.
When one thing complements another, it usually enhances it in some way. It makes the other thing even better. You know that enhance starts with an e, so just remember that if one thing enhances another, it complements it (with an e) and you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-e-m-e-n-t..
Homophones can be confusing, but by using mnemonic devices, it’s pretty easy to remember which spelling to use. Do homophones ever give you headaches? Are there any specific homophones that either confuse you or annoy you when you see them misspelled? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
And keep writing…
“I don’t like to end sentences with prepositions,” my friend said while we were discussing ways to restructure a sentence.
“But it’s fiction,” I told her, “In college, as a creative writing major, I was taught to learn the rules, then break them.”
In this case, it sounded unnatural to write the sentence without ending it with a preposition. Following the rules too rigidly is especially problematic in dialogue. Nobody would say “To which store are you going?” No. We say, “Which store are you going to?”
Writers need to value good grammar, but sometimes it makes sense to break the rules.
Good Grammar vs. Breaking the Rules
There are countless arguments for sticking to the rules of proper grammar, just as there countless reasons to break those rules.
Ultimately, each writer has to decide whether or not to be a stickler for good grammar. Some writers intentionally toss out the rules and develop a writing style outside of those rules. Others adhere to proper grammar strictly and evenly.
Maybe there’s a nice spot in the middle — where you learn the rules and then figure out when it’s appropriate or desirable to break them.
Grammar is Good
Practicing proper grammar has its advantages:
- Adhering to strict grammar rules demonstrates superior language and writing skills.
- A thorough knowledge of grammar is a sign of intelligence in a writer.
- Accurate grammar indicates a writer who has mastered the craft.
- Following grammar rules all the time adds an interesting challenge to the writing process.
- Practicing good grammar keeps the language consistent and concise with well-defined rules.
Rules Are Made to Be Broken
If you do break the rules of grammar, it sure helps to know them first. Otherwise, your writing might come off as amateurish. If you’re planning on letting your good grammar go bad (or at least naughty), then make sure you know the difference between good grammar, lawless grammar, and plain bad grammar.
- Since spoken language rarely adheres to proper grammar, writing that relieves itself of the rules can be easier for readers to absorb.
- Dialogue that sticks to the rules of grammar often sounds unnatural.
- Taking creative license with one’s art means breaking the rules.
- Bending the rules adds punch,; one example would be starting a sentence with a conjunction.
- Ignoring the rules, or tweaking them, can help a writer develop a personal style.
Your Thoughts on Grammar
Do you think good grammar is important for writers to master? Should we even bother with all those annoying rules? Many writers feel that we should focus on voice or story and leave grammar to proofreaders and copyeditors. Others say that understanding proper grammar is a basic writing skill.
What’s your position?
Share your thoughts on good grammar and breaking the rules of grammar in the comments.
Homophones can be confusing. Luckily, there’s an easy way to remember affect vs. effect.
I see it all the time: affect and effect mixed up as if they were completely interchangeable.
But they’re not.
These two homophones may sound exactly alike, but they don’t even belong to the same parts of speech!
If you’ve ever been typing along, written one of these words, and scrunched up your eyebrows wondering whether to spell it with an a or an e, then this grammar lesson is for you!
Affect vs. Effect
In the ongoing wars between homophones, affect vs. effect is one of the most brutal fights on the battlefield. One is usually a noun (but not always) and the other is usually a verb (but not always). So the war wages on, and in the meantime, misspellings and typos run rampant whenever one of these two words appears in print.
Affect is almost always a verb. It is something that happens. You are affected (by someone or something) or you affect (someone or something). This word is never preceded by an article such as an or the because it’s not a thing, it’s an action. When you’re writing, or speaking for that matter, and are unsure of the spelling, ask yourself if the word is being used as an action. If it is, then go with affect.
a = action
a = affect
Effect is a noun, and that is a thing. It’s not something you do, it’s something you have or give or something that just is. We hear this word most commonly in reference to fancy film making — you know — special effects. “The special effects in that movie were groundbreaking!” Note the use of the article, the, as in the effect. See that? Easy!
the = article
effect = noun
If you are using effect as a noun, you can pair it with the: the effect
Also note that if used with an adjective (or noun phrase), it’s effect (with an e):
- After effect
- Special effect
- Greenhouse effect
- Sound effect
- Effects of alcohol
- In effect…
- Adverse effects
- Positive/negative effects
- Cause and effect
- Side effects
That’s all for today! Do you think the battle of affect vs. effect can be won? Will we eventually learn how to spell these two homophones correctly or will they someday merge into a single word?
Do you have any homophones that you need clarified? Or are there any homophones out there that you just can’t seem to remember? Leave a comment and I’ll try to come up with a clever mnemonic device just for you! If you’re too shy to leave a comment, go ahead and use the contact form!
And if you have any tips or tricks for remembering how to spell affect vs. effect, then please share your knowledge. If you are stuck on any homophones, drop a comment. There’s a good chance your grammar question will be answered in the comments or in an upcoming post.
The English language is fraught with sound-alike words that look nothing alike on the page (or screen). These homophones have given many writers headaches as they agonize over word choice while composing poems, articles, essays, and stories.
Accept and except are two such words. Though not among the most commonly confused homophones, these two words do occasionally find themselves getting mixed up and used incorrectly.
Here’s a quick way to remember the difference between accept and except.
Accept means to take or receive, agree or consent, undertake responsibility, or reconcile oneself to something. In a sense, it means to acknowledge. You can’t actually accept something without acknowledging it, except in some very far-out circumstances. Since both words start with ac, it should be easy to remember that if acknowledgment is involved, then accept belongs in your sentence.
Which sentence below is correct?
I accept your proposal.
I except your proposal.
Is the proposal acknowledged? Then choose accept.
You know what’s special? The letter x. It’s special because it’s so rarely used. Wouldn’t you agree? We could almost say that the letter x is an exceptional letter. Remember this letter and these words together: x, exceptional, except. Because except always indicates something that is special or different from the others. It means with the exclusion of, with exception, or otherwise. It marks something as unique.
Which sentence below is correct?
Everyone accept me had read the book.
Everyone except me had read the book.
Does the sentence indicate something or someone who is unique, like one person who didn’t do something that everyone else did? Mark it with an x and use except.
Accept and Except (and Other Homophones)
What other homophones can you come up with besides accept and except? Are there any that you find especially perplexing? Share them in the comments!