When I see professional signs or business documents with words spelled incorrectly, it’s like someone’s dragging nails down a chalkboard, which is not a sound I 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.
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.
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.
A few others that I come across quite often through work are affect v effect, discreet v discrete, stationary v stationery, compliment v complement and principle v principal.
I’ve found that people rely on software spell checkers to find their typos but none of these will be highlighted as they’re all valid spellings – just the wrong words in the wrong place. I’ve written a few pages and articles on spell checkers and their limitations and I’ve used homophones as a real life illustration of where they fall down and why we should always proofread.
Yes, we definitely can’t rely on spell checkers. I think it’s beneficial to use them to catch obvious mistakes and typos, but they simply can’t catch every error.
Has anyone else noticed the “your vs you’re” EPIDEMIC that is rife in the social networking world.
Ie: “Hey facebook, your killing our language and precious brain cells.”
It would be ok if it were only one or two people who do it, but it seems like everyone gets that one wrong!
Yes, I even wrote an article about it, which you can find in the Homophones category on this blog.
I don’t have an issue with here and hear simply because I never confuse them. But this article will be helpful for beginners. Good advice.
Along with the your/you’re mistake, another really annoying one is the its/it’s one. I see this one being done all the time and everywhere I think.
Thanks, Idrees. I also wrote an article about its and it’s. I think that’s one of the more difficult homophones because people assume they need ‘s for any possessive noun, but of course the possessive it doesn’t take the apostrophe. It’s actually pretty confusing. The good news is that once you learn it, you know it forever!
For some reason, this made me think of the word “herb” and whether or not the “h” is supposed to be pronounced. Another word is “homage” …is that like “honor” or “home”? And I HEAR a few people not pronounce the “h” in “humble”. Thoughts?
I have an uncle who doesn’t pronounce the h in history. It sounds weird to me, and I have no idea where he got it because that’s not common to the dialect in the area where we live. I think the h in herb is usually silent except when it’s the name Herb, in which case, the h sound is pronounced. I’m used to hearing homage with the h silent as well. However, I think there may be variances due to dialects that develop in different geographical locations.
That makes sense. Thank you for clearing that up 🙂
One of the most common errors with homophones is its, possessive pronoun, and it’s, it is. Another common confusion with non-native speakers of English, while not strictly speaking a homophone, is confusing loose, adjective, with lose, verb.
I find plenty of native English speakers that confuse its and it’s as well as loose and lose. Homophones can be tough to memorize.
I think I have an age-related homophone impairment. It wasn’t a problem when I was younger, but now, I write “no” when I mean “know,” “there” for “their” and a few others. Not sure how to explain that. I usually catch the mistakes if I keep proofreading over several sessions. I wonder if exposure to well-written literature in school and college helped me learn homophones, but exposure to decades of reading incorrectly written emails and memos all day at work made me regress. Just a theory. Good post! Hope you don’t find any spelling errors in my comment!
Interesting theories, Karen! They all seem plausible to me. Thank goodness for proofreading, right?