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. English teachers and other spelling perfectionists wince when homophones are written incorrectly.
Worst of all, spell check won’t catch the error when incorrect homophones are used because alternative spellings are legitimate.
To confuse matters further, there are other words called homonyms, which are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings. Examples include words like stalk, which could refer to the stem of a plant (a stalk of corn), or the act pursuing or approaching prey (the cat will stalk the mouse).
Another example of a homonym is lie — as in lie down or telling a lie.
That’s right, some homophones can also be classified as homonyms — if they’re spelled the same.
Confused yet? Wait. There’s more.
Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. They may be pronounced the same or they can be pronounced differently from one another.
This means that some homographs are homophones and homonyms.
A good homograph example is record (a disc that plays audio) and record (to save or register something, usually in writing, audio, video, etc.).
How To Remember Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs
You can remember the difference (what difference there is) between homophones, homonyms, and homographs by breaking each word down and recalling the meaning of its root suffix and prefix. Also, try remembering each term separately to start, and don’t worry about which homophones are homonyms and which homonyms are homographs.
The root homo means “the same.” For all of these words something is the same — the spelling or the pronunciation.
- Homophones sound alike. Homo means “the same” and phone means “sound.” They sound the same. They may be spelled alike (or not) but they must sound alike.
- Homonyms are spelled alike. Homo means “the same” and nym means “name.” Homonym means “same name.” Like the words “same” and “name” they also sound alike.
- Homographs look alike (same spelling). Like graphs, they are visual. With the prefix homo, they look the same.
Easy enough? Sure it is!
Do you have your own tricks for remembering homophones, homonyms, and homographs? Do you find any of these words especially confusing? Share your tips, ideas, and questions in the comments.