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What is a Homophone? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Homophone?
  • 1:02 Why Is Learning…
  • 2:17 How to Learn Homophones
  • 4:01 Fun with Homophones
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Remember those confusing words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings? They're called homophones. In this lesson, you'll learn why recognizing homophones is important and discuss a few different ways for mastering them.

What Is a Homophone

The heir to the Anderson estate went outside to get a fresh breath of air after he found out how much money he would inherit.

My Aunt Jane screamed when a little ant crawled on her arm.

I did remember to place the ad in the newspaper but then forget to add up the final cost for the publicity department.

'Heir' and 'air;' 'aunt' and 'ant;' 'ad' and 'add'—what do they all have in common? They're homophones, which are words that sound alike but differ in meaning. Sometimes, homophones are even spelled and sound exactly the same but still have different meanings: 'rose' (the flower) and 'rose' (past tense of rise); 'lie' (to tell an untruth) and 'lie' (to lie down); 'bear' (the animal) and 'bear' (to put up with) are more examples of homophones. Homophones can also come in threes. All of us at some point have fretted over whether to use 'to,' 'too,' or 'two.' Or how about the dreaded 'there,' 'their,' or 'they're?'

Why Is Learning Homophones Important?

Let's say you're writing a cover letter to send along with a resume for a summer job. You're qualified for the position, get good grades, and are extremely responsible. There are 50 other people applying for that same position. Sure, you got all As in Math and have great references, but so do the other 50 people. What's going to make you stand out? Well, one thing that will certainly make you stand out - in a negative way - is screwing up the English language. Spell check can't always save us, particularly when it comes to homophones.

Perhaps you wrote this in your last cover letter:

Here is my resume for you're review.

Ouch! What's wrong with that sentence? Yes, it is spelled correctly, but you've just made a very serious grammatical error. 'You're' is a contraction that means 'you are;' in this case, it should be the possessive 'your.' And, unfortunately, there's a good chance that, simply based on the incorrect use of 'you're,' your resume will be thrown in the garbage despite your stellar extracurricular activities and previous experience. Your grammar skills can say a lot about you. Poor grammar in cover letters or on essays or term papers makes a bad impression, even if the rest of your work is flawless.

How to Learn Homophones

We know that spell check won't save us from all egregious homophone mistakes. But don't worry, you can learn how to avoid these mistakes with a little practice. Learning homophones often comes naturally the more you use them. For example, the more you use 'their,' 'there,' and 'they're' in sentences, the easier it will be to determine which one is correct right off the bat.

You can also find online games that can make learning homophones fun. Such a game might give you a word like 'eye' then ask you to identify its homophone, which is 'I.' You may also be asked to use both in a sentence in order to help train yourself on the correct usage.

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