Tag Archives: Homophones

Revisions part 5: Near-Homophones or Cursed Words #amwriting

One thing that I notice when reading is the improper use of near-homophones, or words that sound closely alike, are spelled differently, and have different meanings. When we read widely, we’re more likely to notice the difference between words like accept and except when they are written.

The different meanings of seldom-used sound-alike words become blurred among people who have little time to read, and little encouragement. Wrong usages become part of everyday speech.

For this reason, new and beginning writers are often unaware they habitually misuse common words until they begin to see the differences in written words.

Let’s look at two of the most commonly confused words, accept and except. People, even those with some higher education, frequently mix these two words up in their casual conversation.

Accept (definition) to take or receive (something offered); receive with approval or favor.

  • to accept a present.
  • to accept a proposal.

Except (definition) not including, other than, leave out, exclude.

  • present company excepted.
  • with the exclusion of.

We accept that our employees work every day except Sunday.

English, being a mash-up language, has a long list of what I think of as cursed words to watch for in our writing.

Farther vs. Further: (Grammar Tips from a Thirty-Eight-Year-Old with an English Degree | The New Yorker by Reuven Perlman, posted February 25, 2021:

Farther describes literal distance; further describes abstract distance. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I’ve tried the whole “new city” thing, each time moving farther away from my hometown, but I can’t move away from . . . myself (if that makes sense?).

  • How is it possible that I’m further from accomplishing my goals now than I was five years ago? Maybe it’s time to change goals? [1]

When we use these words, we want to ensure we are using them correctly.

Ensure: make certain something happens

Insure:  arrange for compensation in the event of damage to (or loss of) property, or injury to (or the death of) someone, in exchange for regular advance payments to a company or government agency.

Assure: tell someone something positively or confidently to dispel any doubts they may have.

What follows is a looooooooong list of cursed words to double-check the meanings of.

If you need to use one of these words in your work, I suggest you look them up in the online dictionary to be sure your words say what you think they do.

For the moment, ignore the grandiose words and learn how to use all your words correctly. The majority are good words and using them correctly when they’re the only word that works is not pretentious.

However, if you pepper your narrative with obscure words, your readers might put the book down out of frustration, so go lightly. Still, it never hurts to know the meaning and uses of words.

178 Homophone and near-homophone comparisons and other often misused words:

  • abhorrent vs. aberrant
  • accept vs. except
  • ado vs. adieu
  • adopt vs. adapt
  • adverse vs. averse
  • affect vs. effect
  • afflict vs. inflict
  • aggravate vs. irritate
  • allude vs. elude
  • allusion vs. illusion vs. delusion
  • alternate vs. alternative
  • ambiguous vs. ambivalent
  • amicable vs. amiable
  • amoral vs. immoral
  • amuse vs. bemuse
  • anecdote vs. antidote
  • appraise vs. apprise
  • ascent vs. assent
  • assume vs. presume
  • assure vs. ensure vs. insure
  • aural vs. oral vs. verbal
  • aver vs. avow
  • bare vs. bear
  • bazaar vs. bizarre
  • breach vs. breech
  • bridal vs. bridle
  • broach vs. brooch
  • callus vs. callous
  • capital vs. capitol
  • censor vs. censure
  • chord vs. cord
  • cite vs. site vs. sight
  • climactic vs. climatic
  • complement vs. compliment
  • compose vs. comprise
  • concurrent vs. consecutive
  • confident vs. confidant(e)
  • connotation vs. denotation
  • connote vs. denote
  • conscious vs. conscience
  • contemptible vs. contemptuous
  • continual vs. continuous
  • correlation vs. corollary
  • council vs. counsel
  • decent vs. descent vs. dissent
  • definitely vs. definitively
  • demur vs. demure
  • desert vs. dessert
  • didactic vs. pedantic
  • disassemble vs. dissemble
  • discomfit vs. discomfort
  • discreet vs. discrete
  • disillusion vs. dissolution
  • disinterested vs. uninterested
  • disperse vs. disburse
  • dual vs. duel
  • economic vs. economical
  • elusive vs. illusive
  • emigrate vs. immigrate vs. migrate
  • eminent vs. imminent
  • eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent
  • empathy vs. sympathy
  • endemic vs. epidemic
  • entitle vs. title
  • entomology vs. etymology
  • envelop vs. envelope
  • envy vs. jealousy
  • epidemic vs. pandemic
  • epigram vs. epigraph
  • epitaph vs. epithet
  • especially vs. specially
  • exalt vs. exult
  • exercise vs. exorcise
  • expedient vs. expeditious
  • extant vs. extent
  • facetious vs. factious vs. fatuous
  • faint vs. feint
  • farther vs. further
  • faze vs. phase
  • ferment vs. foment
  • fictional vs. fictitious vs. fictive
  • figuratively vs. literally
  • flair vs. flare
  • flaunt vs. flout
  • flounder vs. founder
  • formerly vs. formally
  • formidable vs. formative
  • fortunate vs. fortuitous
  • gambit vs. gamut
  • gibe vs. jibe
  • gig vs. jig
  • gorilla vs. guerrilla
  • grisly vs. gristly vs. grizzly
  • hale vs. hail
  • healthful vs. healthy
  • hero vs. protagonist
  • historic vs. historical
  • hoard vs. horde
  • homonym vs. homophone vs. homograph
  • hone vs. home
  • imply vs. infer
  • incredible vs. incredulous
  • indeterminate vs. indeterminable
  • indict vs. indite
  • inflammable vs. inflammatory
  • ingenious vs. ingenuous
  • insidious vs. invidious
  • instant vs. instance
  • intense vs. intensive vs. intent
  • introvert vs. extrovert
  • irony vs. satire vs. sarcasm
  • it’s vs. its
  • laudable vs. laudatory
  • lay vs. lie
  • loath vs. loathe
  • lose vs. loose
  • luxuriant vs. luxurious
  • marital vs. martial
  • mean vs. median vs. average
  • medal vs. meddle vs. mettle
  • metaphor vs. simile
  • moral vs. morale
  • morbid vs. moribund
  • nauseated vs. nauseous
  • naval vs. navel
  • objective vs. subjective
  • optimistic vs. pessimistic
  • overdue vs. overdo
  • palate vs. palette vs. pallet
  • paradox vs. oxymoron
  • parameter vs. perimeter
  • parody vs. parity
  • peak vs. peek vs. pique
  • peddle vs. pedal vs. petal
  • persecute vs. prosecute
  • personal vs. personnel
  • pitiable vs. pitiful vs. piteous vs. pitiless
  • pore vs. pour
  • practical vs. practicable
  • pragmatic vs. dogmatic
  • precede vs. proceed
  • precedent vs. president
  • predominate vs. predominant
  • premier vs. premiere
  • prescribe vs. proscribe
  • pretentious vs. portentous
  • principal vs. principle
  • prophecy vs. prophesy
  • prostate vs. prostrate
  • quote vs. quotation
  • rebut vs. refute
  • regrettably vs. regretfully
  • reluctant vs. reticent
  • respectfully vs. respectively
  • sac vs. sack
  • scrimp vs. skimp
  • sensual vs. sensuous
  • simple vs. simplistic
  • slight vs. sleight
  • stationary vs. stationery
  • statue vs. statute
  • than vs. then
  • that vs. which
  • their vs. there vs. they’re
  • tortuous vs. torturous
  • troop vs. troupe
  • turbid vs. turgid
  • unconscionable vs. unconscious
  • undo vs. undue
  • unexceptional vs. unexceptionable
  • venal vs. venial
  • veracious vs. voracious
  • wave vs. waive
  • weather vs. whether
  • who vs. whom
  • who’s vs. whose
  • wreck vs. wreak vs. reek
  • your vs. you’re

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Farther vs. Further: (Grammar Tips from a Thirty-Eight-Year-Old with an English Degree | The New Yorker by Reuven Perlman, posted February 25, 2021 (accessed 28 Feb 2021).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Collegiate Dictionary.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Collegiate_Dictionary.jpg&oldid=497770186 (accessed February 28, 2021).


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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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