Tag Archives: words that sound alike

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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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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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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