#amwriting: sorting out the sound-alike words

they're their there cupWriting the first draft of your novel can be difficult as word-wrangling is not for the faint of heart. Often I write and rewrite the same paragraph three or even ten times, and still hate it. There are times when getting your phrasing right is confusing.  Many frequently used words are “homonyms” or sound-alike words.

At times, only a homonym, a word that sounds very much like another, can be used in a sentence. That similarity makes it hard to know which word is the correct word in a given circumstance, and when you are spewing the first draft of a manuscript, autocorrect may “help you” by inserting the wrong instance of those words. If their meaning is similar but not exactly the same, negotiating the chicken yard of your manuscript in the second draft becomes quite tricky.

This is where the diligent author does a little research. We go to the internet and Google every possible spelling of the word and decide which of the sound-alike words is the one we want to use.

Consider whether or not you want to use the word “ensure.”

There are three words that could work, and they sound alike. They have similar but different meanings.  So I do my research:

Assure: promise, as in assure you the house is clean.

Ensure: confirm, as in Ensure that you have set the burglar alarm before going on a long trip.

Insure: protect with an insurance policy, as in Insure your home for your peace of mind.

Some other oft confused soundalikes are (these are borrowed directly from the Purdue Online Writing Lab)

  • advise = verb that means to recommend, suggest, or counsel:

advise you to be cautious.

  • advice = noun that means an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done:

I’d like to ask for your advice on this matter.

Than, Then

Than used in comparison statements: He is richer than I.
used in statements of preference: I would rather dance than eat.
used to suggest quantities beyond a specified amount: Read more than the first paragraph.
Then a time other than now: He was younger then. She will start her new job then.
next in time, space, or order: First we must study; then we can play.
suggesting a logical conclusion: If you’ve studied hard, then the exam should be no problem.

Their, There, They’re

  • Their = possessive pronoun:

They got their books.

My house is over there.

(This is a place word, and so it contains the word here.)

They’re making dinner.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

To, Too, Two

  • To = preposition, or first part of the infinitive form of a verb:

They went to the lake to swim.

  • Too = very, also:

I was too tired to continue. I was hungry, too.

  • Two = the number 2:

Two students scored below passing on the exam.

Twotwelve, and between are all words related to the number 2, and all contain the letters tw.

Too can also mean or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra o (“one too many”)

One of my worst failings is the word “it.” If I am going to muck up my manuscript, this word will be a major culprit. I try to do a global search for every instance, and make sure the word is correctly used:

  • The texture of the wall —it’s rough. (It is rough.)
  • I scratched myself on its surface. (The wall’s surface.)

Its… it’s… which is what and when to use it?

The trouble here can be found in the apostrophe. In probably 99% of English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but once in awhile, it indicates a contraction.

  1. It’s is the contraction of “it is” and sometimes “it has.”
  2. Its denotes possession: It owns it

I highly recommend you go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for a complete list of often used homonyms. Purdue OWL is an excellent resource for information crucial to the craft of writing. Much of what I know about the craft comes from there.

When you’re in the throes of a writing binge, these little no-no’s will pop up and confuse you the second draft. The problem is, you will see it as you intend it to be, not as it is written, so these are words you must pay attention to. Sometimes, doing a global search will locate these little inconveniences.

Some words stick out like sore thumbs:

they’re,

their,

there.

But some like

accept and

except

are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that it is best to simply look it up to make sure you are using the right word for that context. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.

Searching for these bloopers is what I like to think of as sorting the rattlesnakes out of the chicken yard, and is part of making your manuscript submission-ready.


Credits:

Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike,” Purdue OWL, Contributors: Purdue OWL,  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/660/01/  (accessed  February 14, 2017).

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “#amwriting: sorting out the sound-alike words

  1. Stephen Swartz

    Now imagine grading 60+ student papers full of these confusions!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Connie,
    I love it that there are people like you that keep us on our toes and remind us that our writing needs to be correct if it is to be effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I write with The Free Dictionary by Farlex (http://www.freethesaurus.com/ ) up on my browser behind my text file. It has a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, idiom dictionary, etc. It’s a great resource for quick checks of words commonly confused, and I often browse for inspiration.

    Like

    • @Kecia – I love online dictionaries – and FREE is always best! Oddly enough, my go-to word book is my Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. It ‘s far more comprehensive than most online thesaurus(s) and is accessible when the power is out. (I live in a rural area.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, yes. I’d never replace my hardback thesaurus. I use the Farlex for quick references. But I’ve never found anything online–despite looking for years–that compares with my Roget’s.

        Strange because it seems as if it’s nothing more than data entry to transfer from the book to the screen. I don’t get it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You’d think by the time we’re adults all of this would be second nature, but I am continually surprised by how many messages I see that commit one or more of these errors, and this by people who should know better. I won’t even go into less vs. few.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am a terrible culprit–lazy English is my best thing. I get confused, trying to remember the usages my English teacher taught in High School. I am a fan of my Style guide for that reason, and even simpler–I Google the query!

      Like

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