Homonyms and Spelling Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011


The English language is filled with words that sound alike but are spelled differently, and words that are spelled alike but pronounced differently. In both cases, the words have different meanings. This lesson will set you straight on such words.

HOMONYM. HOMOPHONE. HOMOGRAPH. These terms can be confusing. They sound and look so similar that you may wonder whether they all mean the same thing. The short answer is not exactly, but they are related. The words that fall into each category are often the root of spelling mishaps.

Before we get into how to avoid those mishaps, let's take a look at the three terms, what they mean, and how they relate. Homonyms are pairs (of even larger groups) of words that have different meanings but either are pronounced alike but spelled differently or are spelled alike but pronounced differently.

The first type of homonym, words with the same pronunciation but different spellings, are called homophones. Examples of homophones include deer and dear, allowed and aloud, and bare and bear.

The second type of homonyms, words with the same spelling but (usually) different pronunciation are called homographs. Examples of homographs include present (with the accent on the first syllable, meaning gift) and present (accent on the second syllable, meaning to introduce) and conduct (with the accent on the first syllable, meaning behavior) and conduct (accent on the second syllable, meaning to lead). Homographs that are pronounced alike include, for example, saw (which is both the past tense of see and an implement for cutting wood) and part (which can mean a portion of a whole or to leave each other).

Now that you know what homonyms, homophones, and homographs are, you're ready to learn how to avoid misusing them. In general, most errors with homonyms come from carelessness. By paying attention to the words you use and what they mean, as well as by carefully proofreading your work, you can avoid most errors. Frequently made errors can become habits; you can avoid them by learning the proper usage of homonym pairs.

TIP: As you become more familiar with homonyms, pay special attention to how you use them. If you are writing a sentence containing the word their, for example, take a moment to make sure that you don't mean there. Pausing to think about the meaning of the word you are using will help you choose the correct one!

Common Homonyms

We could fill an entire book just with the homonym pairs that exist in the English language. For the purpose of this book, though, we'll look at the most common homonyms; the ones that you are most likely to use in your day-today life.

The following list includes some common homonym pairs and a very brief definition or explanation of each word. The list is divided into homophones and homographs.



Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Homonyms and Spelling Practice Exercises

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