Language Skills For Writers: Beware The Dreaded Homophones

How are your language skills?

Homophones can trap any writer.

If you’re wondering: what are “homophones”? Basically, they’re words which sound alike, but have different meanings.

Most writers have homophone bugbears: confusing, sound-alike words which trip you in your writing.

Here’s a list of common homophones.

Language skills: which homophones confuse you?

Here’s one I confuse: bear and bare, when used as she didn’t think she could bear it.

Yes, it’s “bear”, meaning to endure, rather than “bare”, meaning naked, exposed, stark.

“Bear”, as a noun, refers to the giant furry mammal. When it’s used as a verb, it has several meanings:

… none of which relate to uncovering or exposing. A few of its meanings are to hold, to support, to exhibit, to carry oneself in a specified way, to endure, to give birth to, and to yield (especially fruit).

When you know yourself and your language skills, you know which homophones confuse you, so you can watch for them. Unfortunately, a homophone can sneak into your writing inadvertently.

No worries—your grammar checker will catch inadvertent homophones, right?

Possibly. Probably… However, you’ll still find lots of homophones in your reading, even in books by major publishers. Grammar checkers didn’t catch those boo boos, nor did the book’s copy editor. (Assuming the publisher used a copy editor.)

Common homophones found in your reading

Let’s look at homophones you’ll come across in your reading.

Reign and rein… sovereigns and horses

Although reign and rein sound alike, their meanings are different.

Reign vs. Rein:

Reign: “the period during which a sovereign rules.

Rein: “used in pairs to guide or check a horse while riding or driving’.

“Reign” example, Denver Post:

The sun will reign during Labor Day weekend in Denver.

“Rein” example, the Guardian:

China has ‘most responsibility’ to rein in North Korea, says Turnbull.

Both reign and rein can be used as nouns, or verbs. When reign is used as a verb, it’s for a period of rule—“long may she reign over us.”

Rein as a verb, has synonyms including: curtail (rein in), constrain, restrict, discourage, reduce, and subdue.

Pique, peek, and peak… snits, glimpses and mountains

I love pique and peak; they’re good value. You’ll often come across giggle-worthy errors.

In brief:

  • A pique, as in a fit of pique, is a snit—a fit of temper. Irritation.
  • Peek is a quick look: she peeked through the curtains at the neighbors.
  • Peak is the top pointy bit of a mountain.

Language skills: homophones are fun. Keep a list

We’re writers. Words are tools. When you come across a homophone, write it down. Use it in a sentence. The act of writing, and using the word, ensures you’ll remember it.

Watch for homophones in your reading. (We’ll forgive you if you giggle.)


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