Homophones are words that have the same sound but different meanings as well as different spellings.
Sometimes, people confuse these spellings. You may have come across grammar Nazis of the Internet complaining of the misuse of they’re, their and there.
As I was thinking of the definitions of the three, I seemed to hear it to the tune of “Do Re Mi.”
“They’re, they are, a contraction,
Their, something belongs to them,
There, a place that is not here …”
Only, singing it and hearing it sung would not help much, would it? All the homophones sound the same. It would perhaps help if you could both hear it and visualize it simultaneously.
One blunder this “grammar Nazi” often comes across on the Internet is swapping of “it’s” and “its.” It’s is again a contraction of “it” and “is,” and “its” is the possessive of it.
It’s raining. It is raining. By the way, isn’t that a cool umbrella, book lovers?
“It’s raining” and “Its reign.” How is that for double homophones?
Its reign over the amphibious world was a kind of benevolent dictatorship. Now, if only he could find a girl to kiss.
Some homophones come in triplets.
Pair (of Boots)
To pare is to cut off the outer skin of something such as a fruit or vegetable.
Just like there is “pear” and “pare,” there is also “bear” and bare.” Actually, I think the pretty lady above is wearing a bathing suit, but that is as bare as I dare go on this site.
I remember my older brothers telling me this rhyme when I was little.
“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
If Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
And Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair,
Then Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?”
In that case, Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bare bear, don’t you think?
Here are some other homophones that are a bit more tricky. Recently, I read two different online articles that, although otherwise well-written, had a misspelling of palate. In both cases, the writer meant to say, “palate,” as in a person’s taste or appreciation of flavors. In one case, the writer spelled it as “pallet” and, in the other case, as “palette.”
A pallet is a platform on which goods can be moved, stored, or stacked, especially with a forklift.
A palette is a slab on which an artist mixes colors.
Photo by Zachariah Hagy on Unsplash
Palate can refer to either the roof of the mouth or to a person’s taste or appreciation of flavors. A wine critic may use the term in both senses.
How can you remember the differences?
I personally find it very easy to visualize words in their correct spellings, but I understand that not all brains are wired in a similar way.
Pallet — Perhaps, you can imagine the two Ls as stacking pallets turned vertical.
Palette — This word has a French origin and spelling, so you could imagine the stereotypical French artist painting “au plein air” with a beret on his head.
Palate — Perhaps, you could imagine the two As as something edible, like two sunny-side-up eggs with strips of bacon to the right of them, forming the stems of the As.
Sometimes, silly mnemonic devices are effective.
“Stationary” and “stationery” are another pair of homophones I often see confused. Something “stationary” is not moving. “Stationery” is writing paper.
Stationary (as in Stationary Bikes)
Photo by Trust Tru Katsande on Unsplash
How do you remember the difference? How about this? While it’s true that “stationary” can be used in other contexts besides “stationary bike,” think of cyclist Lance Armstrong. The first two letters of his last name, AR, are the same two letters in the beginning of that syllable that has a different spelling than its homophone. Armstrong, Ary.
There’s a big difference between “guerilla” and “gorilla,” although both would be pretty intimidating if you came across one in the jungle.
If you have a background in French or Spanish, it might be easier for you to remember the difference in spelling. “Guerre” is French for war, and the Spanish word for war is “guerra.”
So, here we have a little “cuteness overload.” A fawn is a baby deer, but “fawn,” with this spelling, can also have three other meanings. It can refer to a light, brown color or, as a verb, can mean to court favor in a flattering manner or to show affection, (used eespecially of dogs.)
A faun is a mythological creature that is half-man and half-goat. The creature has the upper half of a man and the lower half of a goat. Usually, the head is drawn with some goat-like qualities as well. The Greek god, Pan, is a faun, and Mr. Tumnus, of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a faun. Faun is synonymous with satyr. Satyr is from the Greek, and “faun” is Roman.
You don’t want to confuse heroin with a heroine. Heroines need to stay clear of the other kind of heroin.
The picture above is rather a pretty one to represent a harmful, addictive drug, but heroin is an opiate that comes from poppies.
A heroine is a female protagonist or hero of a story.
Remember the cymbals on a drum set and those icon symbols on your phone or computer have two different spellings, as do friar and fryer.
I suppose a friar may do some cooking, so it’s possible he may do some frying? We call someone in that position a fry cook, and the appliance they use is a fryer.
Have any of these homophone pairs or triplets confused you in the past? Can you think of some other interesting homophones? Share in the comments.
If you like the study of interesting words and expressions, check out The Wonder of Words category of the blog.