Homonyms: Spelling Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Homonyms: Spelling Review Practice Exercises

The first types of errors we're going to explore are actually not spelling mistakes at all—they're vocabulary mistakes. Take a look at the following sentences.

    Sarah and Jane left they're workbooks at school.
    I put my shoes over their.
    There going to visit Grandma sometime next month.

What is wrong with the italicized words in these sentences? It's not that the words have been misspelled. In each example, the italicized word is spelled correctly; it has just been used incorrectly.

Words like there, their, and they're are called homonyms—words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings. It is easy to confuse homonyms, even if you know exactly what they mean. Even the best writers confuse the words there, their, and they're from time to time. More often than not, the confusion comes from simple carelessness. The best way to avoid making mistakes with homonyms is to learn how each word is used and then double-check your work carefully.


HOMONYMS are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings, or words that are spelled identically but have different pronunciations and definitions.

The word homonym actually refers to two different terms—homophone and homograph.

Homophones are words that are spelled differently but have the same pronunciation and different meanings. Pear, meaning "a kind of fruit," and pare, meaning "to cut," are homophones.

Homographs are words that have an identical spelling to other words but have a different meaning and different pronunciation. For example, sewer , meaning "a place for waste," and sewer , meaning "one who sews," are homographs.

People often use the word homonym to mean homophone—that is, words that are pronounced the same but have different definitions, like pear and pare. However, be aware that homographs are considered homonyms, as well.

The word they're is probably the easiest to remember, because it looks different from the other two. They're is a contraction meaning "they are." If you need to know whether or not they're is the correct word to use, simply substitute the words they are in the sentence. For example, take another look at the first sentence

    Sarah and Jane left they're workbooks at school.

If you substituted for the contraction, the sentence above would read "Sarah and Jane left they are workbooks at school." This does not make any sense, so you know that in this sentence, the correct word will be either there or their.

But which one? Their means "belonging to them," while there means "that place." To find the correct word, you have to first determine what the sentence is trying to say. In this case, we can figure out from the sentence that the workbooks belong to Sarah and Jane; therefore, the correct word for this sentence is their.

If you frequently confuse the words their, there, and they're, this would be a great situation to create a mnemonic. Remember: Mnemonics can be anything that helps you remember how to spell words, not necessarily just rhymes. You could use the sentence "The iron is theirs" to remember that "belonging to them" is spelled the + ir. You could remember there with the sentence "There is not here," and for they're, you could say, "In they are, the a stands for apostrophe."

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