By Megan Driscoll
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- Creative Writing, General
Haggling With Homophones
A homophone is a pair of words that are pronounced the same, but have different meanings. These can be exceptionally tricky because a spell check won't catch them and they're easy to miss in the editing process.
Some homophones are rarely confused in writing: How often have you referred to a 'two carrot diamond' when you meant a 'two carat diamond'? But certain ones crop up all the time, including possessive homophones:
- You're vs. your
- They're vs. their
- It's vs. its
These errors happen all the time, which may simply be due to the fact that the words are so common that people don't think twice when writing them. And the last one is especially tricky because it defies the English convention for forming a possessive (to add an apostrophe followed by an 's').
But there are also other confusing homophones that plague writers due to simple spelling or meaning errors:
- Affect vs. effect
- Capital vs. capitol
- Compliment vs. complement
- Discreet vs. discrete
- Principle vs. principal
Because the meanings of the words above are commonly misunderstood they generate a lot of homophone errors, but the list could go on: Pour vs. pore, steal vs. steel, right vs. write...
Even when people understand the difference in meaning, homophones often get misused due to simple human error. It's an easy mistake to make while writing quickly, and it's just as easy to miss when editing your own work.
There are two ways to avoid homophone errors: First, always have someone else proofread your work. A fresh set of eyes will almost certainly catch a 'they're' when you meant 'their,' and it's better that those eyes be your friend than your professor.
You can also reduce the total number of homophone errors that you make by setting up mental red flags. Every time you use a word like 'principle,' 'its' or 'affect,' make a conscious effort to stop and double check that you're using the right form. (Not sure? Consult a dictionary.) After a while, these little pauses will become second nature and you'll find yourself writing right.
This is part I in the Study.com series on common grammatical mistakes. Stay tuned this week for parts II & III: Confusing words and dangling phrases.