Tag Archives: homonyms

Sound-alike words #amwriting

The large number of common homonyms, or sound-alike words, in our everyday usage are what makes English so tricky to learn as a second language. But even those of us who claim it as our native language get confused. Authors must learn how to recognize and use them properly.

Consider whether or not you want to use the word “ensure.” This word is so commonly abused that many native speakers don’t know which word to use in what context.

Three words could work, and they are quite similar to each other. Even worse, they have similar but different meanings.  This is when we go to the dictionary for a little research. All you have to do is use the dictionary that comes with your word processing program. (In Word, you type the word, right click on it, and when the menu opens, click on ‘look up.’)

Assure: promise, as in I 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.

One of the worst failings for new authors is the word “it.” If problems appear in a manuscript, this word will likely be a major culprit. In my own work, 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 most English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but once in a while, it indicates a contraction.

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

Some words jump right out at you as a reader:

  • they’re,
  • their,
  • there.

But others are more sneaky:

  • accept
  • except

Accept and except are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that, if you doubt yourself, it is best to simply look it up. 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.

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#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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#amwriting: homonyms and honorifics

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PDAn editor once told me, “If you’re going to use grammar improperly, at least have the decency to misuse it consistently.” Since that day, I have made every effort to do so.

However, as a reader, I like to see that the author and editor both had a good grasp of the basics, and if a book is written with too many inconsistencies it ‘s hard to get involved in it.

We are all guilty of typos, homonym misuse, and the occasional comma splice. We sometimes are inconsistent with the words “sir” and “Son.” We make every effort to have our work read by editors and proofreaders, and still, invariably, some glaring blot of darkness sneaks through because certain aspects of the English language are as difficult to wrangle as a van full of toddlers on coca-cola.

One thing I’ve regularly noticed people have trouble with is the proper use of terms of endearment, such as “Sir,” or “Dad,” and “Mom.” The rules are basically simple to remember:

For people who are related, if you are saying it directly to them in place of their name, capitalize it.

  • “I love you, Son.”

If you are mentioning them in conversation, don’t capitalize it.

  • “My son is wonderful.”

Terms of endearment can also be relatively impersonal, denoting a friendship, or can even be slightly patronizing. If the speaker is not related to the person in question, do not capitalize it.

  • “I wouldn’t do that, son.”

Then there is the issue of the word “sir.” It is an honorific. Quoted from the Chicago Manual of Style section 8.32:

Honorific titles and respectful forms of address are capitalized in any context with several exceptions:

  • sir

  • ma’am

  • my lord

  • my lady

Where king/queen, Lord, or Sir is used as part of someone’s name, it is always capitalized, as are these honorifics:

  • King Olav, and Lucille, the Queen of Darkness
  • Lord John Davies; Lady Mary Shelton
  • Sir William Neville

Where king/queen is employed in the context of a general reference it is lowercased:

  • “Hello,” said the king.

But should one capitalize the word “sir” when it’s used in dialogue? Which of the following would be correct? “Yes sir.” OR “Yes Sir.”

If the reply is to a respected person in general, it is written with no capital, as it’s not a formal name. But you do need a comma just you would with a formal name:

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, George.”

For a more in-depth exploration of that subject see my post of March 14, 2016: son and sir: to capitalize or not?

When writing dialogue: if your speaking character is in the military and the person he/she is addressing has a military rank above them, and is speaking in their military capacity you must capitalize it. The exception to this is if a younger person of lesser rank is talking to an older person of higher rank in an informal setting. At that point, the younger person is simply speaking respectfully to an older person, and “sir” does not need to be capitalized.

Remember, English is a strange and mysterious language, and is one even which even native-born speakers rarely master. While it has rules, it has many exceptions to those standards, so it is easy to be confused. Your word-processing program’s spell checker won’t notice these things because they aren’t misspelled.

to lie means to restHomophones: Words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled and Homonyms: Words that sound alike, but have different meanings:

  • there, they’re, their
  • to, too, two

It’s also good to recognize homographs (words that share the same spelling) that have different pronunciations and meanings. These words include:

  • desert (to abandon) and desert (arid region)
  • tear (to rip) and tear (a drop of moisture formed in the eye)
  • row (to argue or an argument) and row (as in to row a boat or a row of seats—two words which are also a pair of homophones)
  • bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree)

Capitonyms are words that share the same spelling but have different meanings when capitalized. They may or may not have different pronunciations. Such words include:

  • polish (make shiny) and Polish (from Poland)
  • march (walk or advance) and March (the third month of the year in the Gregorian calendar)

chicago manual of styleNegotiating the shoals of English grammar can be tricky, and it’s easy to get a fortune tied up in reference books. However, if you are on a tight budget, these two good references will help immensely with gaining some mastery of it:

I always recommend these two as they are the most comprehensive examples of their kind, and good, lightly used volumes are sometimes available second hand through Amazon.

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is an excellent reference book if the Chicago Manual of Style is too daunting for you, as it’s not nearly as detailed and does hit the high points, and old copies are always available in second-hand bookstores.

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It may be rattlesnake, but it tastes like chicken

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PDWriting the first draft of your novel is a lot of fun, but there are times when getting your phrasing right is confusing. Wrangling words is not for the faint of heart! Many frequently used words are what is called “homonyms” — soundalike words.

Yeah–you know that casserole contains rattlesnake surprise, but it tastes like chicken, so the kids haven’t a clue.

You as the author, do not always see the rattlesnakes among the chickens in your work.

You MUST NOT expect an editor to straighten out a mess that you can take of with a little attention on your part, so it is important to do your  research, and learn your craft. Submitting a mess to an editor will result in rejection, as it is an expensive waste of time to try to teach a would-be author how to write a book.

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.

For instance, take this sentence from my current work in progress, where Friedr is explaining the events that led to Christoph’s sacrifice, speaking to Dane: “With Zan’s assistance, Edwin modified the parasite that will ensure no Bear Dogs can ever survive in Mal Evol ever again…”

Now I wasn’t sure that ensure was the correct word to express what I wanted to convey, because there are three words that could work and they sound alike, and have similar but different meanings.  So I did my research:

Assure: promise, as in I 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.

Hmmm.  2 of these words will convey an intent that would work, but I think I will stay with my original idea– Ensure as in Confirm.

 

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.

  • 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.

Conscious, Conscience

  • conscious= adjective meaning awake, perceiving:

Despite a head injury, the patient remained conscious.

  • conscience = noun meaning the sense of obligation to be good:

Chris wouldn’t cheat because his conscience wouldn’t let him.

Idea, Ideal

  • idea = noun meaning a thought, belief, or conception held in the mind, or a general notion or conception formed by generalization:

Jennifer had a brilliant idea—she’d go to the Writing Lab for help with her papers!

  • ideal = noun meaning something or someone who embodies perfection, or an ultimate object or endeavor:

Mickey was the ideal for tutors everywhere.

  • ideal = adjective meaning embodying an ultimate standard of excellence or perfection, or the best:

Jennifer was an ideal student.

Its, It’s

  • its = possessive adjective (possessive form of the
    pronoun it):

The crab had an unusual growth on its shell.

  • it’s = contraction for it is or it has (in a verb phrase):

It’s still raining; it’s been raining for three days.

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

Lead, Led

  • lead = noun referring to a dense metallic element:

The X-ray technician wore a vest lined with lead.

  • led = past-tense and past-participle form of the verb to lead, meaning to guide or direct:

The evidence led the jury to reach a unanimous decision.

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.

they're their there cupTheir, 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 mean also or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra o(“one too many”)

We’re, Where, Were

  • We’re = contraction for we are:

We’re glad to help.

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

Where are you going?

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

  • Were = a past tense form of the verb be:

They were walking side by side.

Your, You’re

  • Your = possessive pronoun:

Your shoes are untied.

You’re walking around with your shoes untied.

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

Special thanks to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for posting these amazing hints, and SO much more information crucial to the craft of writing. If you go out to their website you will find it chock full of really good lessons for you to use to improve your skill at the craft of writing.

to, too, twoIt seems like a no brainer when you are reading it, but 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 search will locate these little inconveniences.

Some are obviously wrong and stick out like sore thumbs, like improperly used they’re, their, and 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.

 

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