Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs

homophones homonyms and homographs

Homophones, homonyms, and homographs.

They perplex us, confuse us, and make our heads spin. If you thought learning how to correctly spell words that sound alike was difficult, wait till you try to learn the terms for describing those words.


Homophones are words that are pronounced alike but have different meanings.

Some examples are accept and except, affect and effect, and triplets too and to and two, along with they’re and their and there.

Homophones may also refer to words that are spelled and pronounced the same but differ in meaning — for example lie (lie down) and lie (an untruth).

These words are a major source of frustration for many writers, students, and professionals who struggle to memorize variant spellings for words that sound alike but have different meanings. Read More

What is a Homophone?

what is a homophone

What is a homophone?

Homophones are those annoying words that sound exactly alike but have different meanings and are often spelled differently.

They give English teachers nightmares, cause headaches for students, and drive editors crazy.

We writers need to be diligent about homophones because spell-check won’t catch them, and many readers cite misspelled homophones as pet peeves.

And we never want to annoy our readers! That’s a cardinal sin.

Examples of Homophones

Here are some examples of homophones:

  • Their and there
  • Accept vs. except
  • Compliment vs complement
  • Its and It’s
  • Weather and whether
  • Bass or base

Homophones must sound the same but differ in meaning. They’re not always spelled the same, but they can share spelling. For example tie (tie a knot) and tie (fashion accessory worn around the neck).

These words can frustrate people who struggle to memorize variant spellings and meanings for words that sound alike, and spell check won’t catch the mistake when incorrect homophones are used, because variant spellings are legitimate.


Homophones and Spell Check

The problem with most homophones is that if we’re typing too quickly or not paying close attention to what we’re writing, we could accidentally end up with a properly spelled word, except it’s the wrong word. It doesn’t work in the context of the sentence.

As an example, let’s look at the homophones affect vs. effect. If you’re in a hurry or if you’re not fully concentrating on the task at hand, you could easily mistype the first letter of either of those words and end up with something like the following:

  • That movie had great special affects. (wrong: it should be special effects)
  • That movie effected me deeply. (wrong: it should be affected)

In the examples above, just one little letter was mistyped in each sentence. Typos like these happen all the time. That’s why we run spell-check and proofread our work. But since both affects and effected in the examples above are correct spellings, a program like Microsoft Word won’t catch them. In other words, spell-check cannot check to see if you are using words correctly.

Remembering Spellings

Wouldn’t it be cool if the built-in spell-check on the world’s most popular word-processing software had a homophone filter? It would work like the find feature, except it would point out all the words in your document that can be classified as homophones.

As far as I know, no such filter exists (at least not in the software I use. So writers and editors have to look for these nagging little typos manually — which is to say we have to proofread our texts carefully.

The funny thing about homophones is that they are rarely misspelled because the writer doesn’t know the correct usage. Usually, the misspelling occurs because the writer made a typo and then missed that typo during proofreading and editing (or failed to proofread and edit altogether).

Personally, I find that if a typo slips past my editing eyes, it’s almost always a homophone. And it drives me crazy.

What is a Homophone?

Do you have a good grasp on homophones? How do you feel when you find that you’ve misspelled a homophone in a piece of writing or a published blog post? Do these words give you more trouble in editing than other words? Got any tips for catching misspelled homophones or remembering the correct spellings and definitions? Please share your thoughts and questions by leaving a comment. And keep writing!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones for Music Lovers: Turn up the Bass and Play a Chord

bass or base chord or cord

Homophones: bass or base? Chord or cord?

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Many homophones also have different spellings, and all too often, people mix them up.

The result is an onslaught of misspellings throughout the written universe.

Although these mistakes are understandable, they are problematic since they are contagious. If someone sees a homophone used incorrectly or misspelled enough times, they will assume the usage is correct and adopt it.

Thus the errors spread.

Ideally we’d make sure our language doesn’t contain these types of words. I’m sure we are creative enough to come up with completely new words, but unfortunately, language evolves of its own accord, so we must make do with what we have.

Today, we’ll look at two sets of homophones that have connections to music. The first set of homophones is bass and base. The second is chord and cord. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use only common definitions of these homophones.

Homophones: Bass and Base

Both words, bass and base, rhyme with the following words: ace, face, lace, and race.


In music, there’s a word that’s generally used in lieu of the word low. That word is bass. There’s a bass clef, a bass guitar, and even bass speakers, which make cars go boom. All of these indicate sound that is low in tone. As you can see, this word can function as both a noun and adjective:

  • On piano, the left hand plays the bass clef while the right hand plays the treble clef. (adjective)
  • Charlie Pace played the bass. (noun)
  • Those bass speakers are too loud! (adjective)

It’s not a fish! Bass is an odd word because it looks like it should be pronounced to rhyme with class. Actually, when referring to fish, it is pronounced that way. Just remember when talking about sound and music, it’s spelled b-a-s-s and the a is a hard vowel.


This word is not nearly as fun, even though it sounds just like bass. Its meaning usually indicates the bottom or core of something. It can also mean that from which something comes. This versatile word can function as a noun, adjective, or verb.

  • The base ingredient is flour. (adjective)
  • It looked like a home run but he only got to third base. (noun)
  • We don’t base our opinions on falsehoods. (verb)

Base sounds just like bass, but its spelled differently and doesn’t inherently deal with music or sound.

Homophones: Chord and Cord


In music, when you play three or more notes simultaneously, that’s a chord. The word chord is also used to refer to emotion.

  • Can you play a C chord on the guitar?
  • That episode really struck a chord with me.


You know that thing that connects your computer to the wall? That’s a cord. The same word refers to lengths of string or thin rope, such as the drawstring cord in the waistband of your sweatpants. A cord can also be a unit of volume. This word is a noun.

  • Can you plug this cord into the wall?
  • Tie it with a cord!
  • I just ordered a cord of firewood.

Mastering Homophones

Have you ever struggled with the spelling of bass or base? What about chord or cord? Many people find homophones challenging, but they’re actually pretty easy to learn if you just take the time. Share your thoughts on these an other homophones by leaving a comment.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Which witch?

which witch

Which witch?

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 appropriate, since we are discussing witches (Get it? Spelling, as in casting spells). The first step is to memorize the correct spelling of both words:


Which witch?

Which witch? These two words sound exactly alike but they are totally different. In short, one of these is a mythological or supernatural individual who casts spells. The other is not a person at all; in fact it is merely a pronoun. How can you remember the difference?

  • Who, what, and where are also pronouns that start with the letters wh — just like the word which as in which pronoun do you like best?
  • Try to remember the phrase itch the witch. Notice that witch (a person who can itch) is spelled the same as itch with a w tacked on to the beginning.

Homophones are challenging for lots of people, but you can find easy tricks to help you remember the difference between words that sound alike but are spelled differently.

Next time someone asks which witch you’ll know exactly what to tell them.

Are there any homophones that give you grief? Got any tricks for remembering the difference between which and witch? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Two, Too, and To

homophones two too to

Learn the difference between two, too, and to.

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.

The Difference Between Two, Too, and To

Luckily, each of these three homophones belongs to a different part of speech. As such, the way we use these words in sentences varies considerably, and that makes them a little easier to remember. The first step in learning to differentiate between two, too, and to is to understand their meanings.


Two is a noun; it’s also a numeral, a word that stands for the number 2.

Example: I have two dogs.


Too is an adverb, and it’s most commonly used to mean the following: also, an excessive extent, more than should be, or very.


You’re writing? I’m writing, too. (also)

There are too many homophones. (an excessive extent)

She bought too much food. (more than should be)

He was not too pleased with the results. (very)


To is a preposition that indicates a direction or motion, including physical distance, abstract distance, and distance in time.


I’m going to the store.

She works from nine to five.

We’re learning grammar — from sentence diagramming to homophones.

Mnemonic Devices for Homophones

When you have a hard time remembering homophones, or anything else for that matter, try developing a mnemonic device that will help you recall information quickly and easily. Sometimes you can use images; other times you can use words and sentences.

For example, to remember the names of the nine planets in order from the sun outward, I was taught the following sentence (this was back when there were nine planets): My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. This helped my classmates and me remember that the planetary order was: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

Pluto’s no longer a planet, so the elementary school teachers are going to have to tweak that sentence a bit, but it gives you an idea of how you can develop tricks for remembering things, and homophones are no exception. Images and word associations are also helpful for mnemonics.

How to Remember Homophones Two, Too, To

Remember Two with a Three

All three of these homophones have the letters t and o in them. Only one has the letter w. If you turn w on its side (counterclockwise), it looks a lot like a three (3), which is a number that comes right after number two (t30).

Remembering the Difference Between Too and To

Remembering the difference between too and to is a little more difficult than remembering that two is a number. But there’s a solution. One of these words has one o and the other has two o’s. That’s right, one word too has too many o’s. If you can remember the phrase “too many o’s,” you can also remember that if the too you’re using means “in excess” or “also” (all so many), then you’re good to go.

Do you have problems remembering the difference between two, too, and to? What about remembering the differences between other homophones? Leave a comment.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Weather and Whether

homophones - weather and whether

Homophones: weather and whether.

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 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.

1. Wheather is NOT a word: no heat

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.

2. Weather is related to climate

Weather 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.

3. Whether or not

Whether 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).

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.

More Homophones

Got any tips you’d like to add for remembering how to tell the difference between weather and whether? Have a grammar question of your own or a set of homophones that give you aches and pains? Leave a comment!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Its and It’s

its and it's

Homophones sound alike: its and it’s.

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 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 and 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.

Possession: Its

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.

Contraction: It’s

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.

Its and It’s

Got any handy tips for remembering the difference between its and it’s? 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.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Hear Here

homophones hear here

How to remember the difference between homophones hear and here.

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.

Hear 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, 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.

Mastering Homophones

To learn more about homophones and other word groups with similar pronunciations and confusing spellings, read Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs.

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.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Compliment vs. Complement

compliment vs complement

Homophones: compliment vs. complement.

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Sometimes, they’re also spelled differently: compliment vs. complement.

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, even if 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.

Compliment vs. 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 vs. 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..

Got Homophones?

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? Do you have any tricks for remembering compliment vs. complement? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

And keep writing!

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Homophones: Affect vs. Effect

affect vs effect

Homophones sound alike: affect vs. effect.

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 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.

To Affect

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

An Effect

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

More Homophones?

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?

If you have any tips or tricks for remembering how to spell affect vs. effect 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.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing