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Confused Words and Homophones: Writing Skills Success Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Exercises for this concept can be found at Confused Words and Homophones: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

Words have a longer life than deeds.

—Pindar, Greek poet (522 B.C.E.–443 B.C.E.)

Lesson Summary

Some of the most commonly used words in the English language are easily confused with other equally common words. To avoid confusing readers, you need to know which ones are which.

This lesson covers more of the most commonly confused word pairs, those you are likely to use in your writing. If you learn to distinguish these words, you can avoid errors. The words are divided into three separate sections with practice exercises at the end of each section. The words in italics following some of the entries are synonyms, words that can be substituted in a sentence for the easily confused words.

Small but Tricky

By/Buy

  • By is a preposition used to introduce a phrase (by the book, by the time, by the way).
  • Buy as a verb means purchase. As a noun, it means bargain, deal.
  • Examples:
      We stopped by (preposition) the store to buy (purchase) some groceries.
      That car was a great buy (deal).

Dear/Deer

  • Dear is an adjective meaning valued, loved.
  • Deer is a noun referring to an animal, a four - legged one that lives in the woods and looks like Bambi.
  • Example:
      My dear (loved) daughter's favorite movie is Bambi, about a deer (animal).

Die/Dye

  • Die is a verb meaning pass away, fade.
  • Dye as a verb means to color, tint. As a noun, it refers to coloring, pigment.
  • Example:
      We waited for the wind to die (fade) before we decided to dye (color) the sheets.

Hear/Here

  • Hear is a verb meaning listen to.
  • Here is an adverb meaning in this place, to this place.
  • Example:
      Please come here (to this place) so you can hear (listen to) what I have to say.

Hole/Whole

  • Hole is a noun meaning opening, gap.
  • Whole as an adjective means entire, intact. As a noun, it means entire part or amount.
  • Example:
      The whole (entire) group heard the message.
      They patched the hole (opening) in the wall.

Knew/New

  • Knew is a verb, the past tense of know. It means understood, reconized.
  • New is an adjective meaning fresh, different, current.
  • Example:
      I knew (understood) they were planning to buy a new (different) car.

Know/No

  • Know is a verb meaning understand, recognize.
  • No as an adverb means not so, not at all. As an adjective, it means none, not one.
  • Example:
      As far as I know (understand), we have no (not one) more of these shoes in stock.
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