Unless you’re a ferociously passionate language user, chances are you’ve used a similar sounding word instead of the appropriate one, and more than once. How many times in the last week did your Word editor flagged your errors when you confused “its” and “it’s” or “their” and “there”? Worse, what if your computer editor didn’t catch them at all?
What is a homophone?
A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same way as another word, but has a different meaning. This means that words like “to”, “two”, and “too” are homophones. We pronounce them the same, yet their meanings are completely different.
It’s not just simple words that get confused. The words “queue” and “cue” have a different spelling and meaning, but they too can be confused when you’re touch typing quickly and you’re already deep into your post-snack afternoon slump.
Why so much hate on homophones?
The English language has borrowed words from so many languages and cultures that it has become a very confusing and often unpredictable language to learn. “Tea” and “tee” are semantically different, but it’s unbelievably easy to swap one for the other in writing.
This is why people can get upset when homophones cause them problems. Homophones are little language bandits that steal away your thunder. Your writing will never be flawless because they’re bound to ruin it, you think. The thing is they’re embarrassingly good at it – but you can be better.
How to master homophone usage
The only foolproof solution to ban homophone misuse from your writing once and for all is to improve your writing skills.
Homophones, as we said above, are little bandits that wait for exhaustion to kick in to make their move and sneak into your writing. This means the best thing you can do is to equip yourself with the linguistic knowledge you need to avoid them, or at least spot them when they creep in.
Revisit your elementary school years and practice your spelling and vocabulary skills. There’s no shame in trying to become a competent language user, no matter how old you are.
When learning new words, ensure you master both their spelling and their meaning.
It’s not enough to know how a word is pronounced, because chances are you’re going to confuse “keys” with “quays” at some point.
By properly learning a word’s orthography and meaning you are instantly minimizing the chances of confusing homophones in your writing. This will ensure that you avoid the always-awkward situation of having to explain yourself to your editor or manager. Yikes.
Practice your language skills with spelling games and even with spelling software. Good software will help you brush up on your language skills and give you a the tools you need to write clearly and proofread your writing afterward. Remember, “Ceiling the deal” is not an acceptable phrase any way you look at it.
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