Watch for homophones: Words that sound alike, but are vastly different

By Ron Cooper
The Word Doctor

Its a crying shame how often writers use the wrong word!

Oops, I just used “its” instead of the correct word, “it’s.” I’m just trying to see if you are paying attention!

Homophones such as “it’s” and “its” are words that are pronounced the same, but have different meanings and spellings.

How do you guard against falling into the homophone trap? The best way is to study sentences with both words used properly in context.

Carefully examine what distinguishes one from another. Then you can prevent the embarrassment that comes with this kind of goof-up.

I’ve prepared a few for you, putting them in context to allow you to make the correct distinctions:

Principal, principle

The assistant principal at our high school read the essay, “Principles of Effective Study,” to the assembly.

Compliment, complement

The guest’s compliment about my dinner party complemented a delightful evening.

Altar, alter

Her life certainly will be altered after saying her vows at the altar. (Thanks to Gail Ross)

Reign, rein

During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the Russian tsar kept a tight rein on his people.

Foul, fowl

A foul odor emitted from the pen where the fowl were contained.

Capitol, capital

We’re heading for the nation’s capital where our Congressman will give us a personal tour of the Capitol.

Lose, loose

Our pet dog is out on the loose. I’m afraid we’ll lose him in this fog.

Hope this has helped you. Check out this site for an exhaustive list of homophones:

One last word: Homophones are hear to stay, but you can master them. Yep, I tried to trick you in that last sentence. It’s “here” instead of “hear.”

Sorry ‘bout that!

About Administrator

Ron was an award-winning newspaper journalist during his 25-year career. He worked for community and business publications, including Business First of Louisville. Ron has written more than 5,000 articles for newspapers and magazines. He has ghost-written books and articles for business professionals. Ron has worked as a freelance writer, writing coach and media consultant for the past 13 years. His clients have included corporate and non-profit organizations.
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