Spelling: Words That Sound Alike (Homonyms & Homophones)

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  • 0:01 Sound in the English Language
  • 1:05 Homophones
  • 2:29 Homographs
  • 3:40 Homonyms
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Watch this lesson to learn to differentiate between words that sound alike but may be spelled differently. We'll specifically look at homonyms, homographs, and homophones.

Sound in the English Language

The purpose of any language is communication. Each language has its own set of rules and guidelines to ensure accurate communication. The written word is just another type of language with specific rules and guidelines. For instance, we use letters in writing to indicate specific sounds. These letters must follow certain rules in order to make those sounds.

For example, is there any written word in the English language that begins with 'wt?' Of course not. Try to pronounce those two letters together. The sounds just don't flow. This is why we have many different vowels and consonants: to represent sounds that make up a language, which allows for communication.

Many letters can make similar sounds. Sometimes it can be difficult, based on speech alone, to determine how that word will be spelled. For words with similar sounds, knowing the meaning will help you with correct spelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss three types of words categorized by spelling and pronunciation. As each is explained, keep in mind that some examples can fall into more than one category.


The first type of words categorized by sound and spelling are homophones. Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings and are sometimes spelled differently. In homophones, the prefix 'homo' means 'the same' and the root 'phones' means 'sound.' This may help you remember the definition if you think of it as words with the same sound. Let's look at a few examples.

One example of two words with the same exact pronunciation but different meanings and different spellings are the words 'to,' 'two,' and 'too.' They sound the exact same when spoken but have very different meanings and spellings. 'To' means 'towards' or 'in the direction of,' 'two' is a number, and 'too' is a synonym for 'also' or 'very.'

Another pair of homophones is 'write' and 'right.' 'Write' means 'to record words on paper,' and 'right' means 'correct.'

A final example of homophones are the words 'do,' dew,' and 'due.' 'Do' indicates 'performance of a task,' 'dew' is 'water from the air,' and 'due' means 'a requirement' or 'because of.'

All of these examples of homophones have the same pronunciation, which means the same sounds are produced. To ensure proper spelling, you need to know which meaning of the word you want. If you can keep this in mind, then you will properly spell these homophones.


A second type are homographs. These words share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation. You can remember this definition by again looking at the root word. As you now know, 'homo' means 'same.' The root 'graph' means 'to write,' hence the definition 'same spelling.' The key with homographs is that they have different meanings.

For example, 'bow' and 'bow' are homographs. Each is spelled the same but has a different definition, which is indicated by a different pronunciation. 'Bow' is 'a tied loop,' and 'bow' is to 'bend at the waist.'

A second example of homographs is 'bass' and 'bass.' Again, the spelling remains the same, but there are two different definitions with varying pronunciations. 'Bass' is a 'type of fish,' and 'bass' is a 'deep voice.'

Some more examples include 'lead' ('to be in front of others') and 'lead' ('a type of metal'), 'close' ('near') and 'close' ('to shut'), 'wind' ('air movement') and 'wind' ('to coil or wrap around').

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