Very few of us are perfect spellers. Many of us are not even good spellers. However, we should all know how to spell commonly used words.
Bad spelling and poor grammar can distract from even the most interesting piece of writing. In fact, if the person reading your bad spelling can actually spell, chances are they become more irritated with each badly spelled word.
When unsure of how to spell a word, many resort to sounding it out. But what happens when there are a number of words to use, but they sound the same?
Words that sound the same yet have completely different meanings are homophones. They often litter blogs, online comments and even newspapers and magazines. You cannot rely upon spellcheck to pick them up for you because they are correctly spelled — you have just happened to use the wrong one!
So, to help you out, we have made a list of the most commonly misused homophones, along with some little tricks that may help you to remember which word to use.
- Your and You’re
These two words are probably the most misused, but cause many a reader to grit their teeth in annoyance.
Your means something belonging to you — as in your car or your pen
You’re is actually the shortened form (contraction) of ‘you are’ — as in you’re amazing or you’re smart.
In the case of ‘you’re’, the apostrophe simply takes the place of the ‘a’ in the word ‘are’.
- Their, there and they’re
These words also cause havoc among writers, more so than the above two words — because in this case, there are three words that sound the same!
Their means something that belongs to someone else — as in their car or their pen
There is a location — as in over there or there it is
They’re is similar to you’re. It is the contraction for ‘they are’ — as in they’re amazing or they’re smart
‘Their’ contains a clue. It contains the word ‘heir’, which means a future owner. So use ‘their’ when talking about something belonging to someone else.
With regard to ‘there’, it contains another word meaning location: ‘here’. So use that when referring to a place.
‘They’re is similar to ‘you’re’. The apostrophe simply replaces the ‘a’ in the word ‘are’.
- Its and it’s
Two little words can cause big problems when it comes to writing.
Its means it belongs to something or someone — as in the dog ate its food
It’s is short for ‘it is’ (similar to ‘you are’ and ‘they are’ in the above examples) — as in it’s too late to feed the dog.
In the case of ‘it’s’, the apostrophe takes place of the ‘i’ in ‘is’.
With ‘its’ the ‘s’ is close to the ‘it’ means someone is keeping their belongings close.
- To, too and two
These may not be as confusing as the words we have already mentioned, but they still get mixed up.
To means ‘in the direction of’ — as in we are going to the shops.
Too means ‘also’ or ‘as well’ — as in we are going to the shops too.
Two is a number — as in the two of us are going to the shops.
In the case of ‘too’, there is an extra ‘o’ which is like an extra person tagging along.
‘Two’ begins with ‘tw’, just like the words ‘twins’, and there are two of those!
- Loose and lose
Many people confuse these two words, despite them having different meanings.
Loose means ‘not tight’ — as in his pants were loose.
Lose means to ‘cease to have something’ — as in he was about to lose his pants.
When the word contains two ‘o’s, the word is ‘loose’. When you lose an ‘o’, the word becomes ‘lose’.
- Sight, site and cite
Not as common as the above words, but these can still cause problems.
Sight refers to your vision, or the act of seeing — as in she was a sight to behold.
Site refers to a location — as in the building site was a mess.
Cite means to quote or refer to — as in always cite your references when you write.
‘Sight’ is spelled like ‘light’ and you can’t see without a light.
‘Site’ often describes where building work is taking place. The ‘te’ at the end of the word reminds you that there is probably a tradesman’s entrance to the site.
‘Cite’ is spelled with a ‘c’ so this reminds you to make sure the points you are making should be correct (cite your references).
- Affect and effect
These two words can trip up even the best of spellers.
Affect is a verb and means to produce a change or influence something — as in how will the new rules affect you?
Effect is a noun that can be used as a verb. It means a change that has occurred — as in the new rules had little effect on me.
‘Affect’ is usually used to describe something that is going to happen, while ‘effect’ means that the change has occurred. ‘Affect’ starts with an ‘a’ which comes before ‘e’ in the alphabet. The ‘affect’ happens before the ‘effect’.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of homophones. In fact, you can probably think of dozens more words with different meanings and spellings that sound the same.
However, if you can remember how to use the above words correctly in your writing, you are sure to be a step ahead of everyone else.
Until next time.