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Homophones, or, See Those People Over There? They're Their Worst Nightmare

Nothing drives the Grammar Groupie more crazy than improper apostrophe usage. Coming in a close second place, however is misuse of homophones. Perhaps that’s because the two are often related, as in the case of the unholy trinity of homophones, their, there and they’re. Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. They delight in confusing writer and non-writer alike.

I wish I could direct readers to some clever song or acronym or acrostic to assist in remembering the abundant cases of homophones, but, alas, you simply need a good resource and the ability to memorize in order to master homophones. I will direct readers to this excellent site from Earlham College that lists pairs and groups of homophones. The only downfall is the lack of definitions for each word.

And, in that vein, I will list a few homophone groups that I see misused exceedingly often, along with their definitions. Please, give Grammar Groupie’s poor eyes a break (she needs them to see in those dark clubs) and memorize this little list.

Their, they’re, there: The words with apostrophes are the easiest. Expand the word. They’re = they are. See? Simple. Their is a possessive: a thing which belongs to them. Mom and Dad took their car to the shop. The car belongs to them. Finally, there is a place. As in, Over there, over there, send the word, send the word, over there.

Its, it’s: Of course, readers, you will apply the aforementioned rule to this pair as well, no? It’s = it is. Its is possessive: The dog played with its squeaky toy.

Affect, effect: This is a universally tough one and requires its own post. Stay tuned.

Altar, alter: You get married at the altar, which alters (changes) your single state.

Base, bass: You will never get to first base if you play your bass too loudly. At least not with the Grammar Groupie.

Board, bored: Board has more than one meaning, the most common being a thin, flat piece of wood and a housing situation which includes some form of meals. Bored is what you are when you’ve been housed in the uninteresting part of town.

Buy, bye, by: Buy: to purchase. Bye: to leave. By: has a gazillion definitions. Look it up. It does not, however, mean to purchase or to leave.

Cents, sense, scents: I can purchase a variety of scents (smells, perfumes) with my cents (money, coin), but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (understanding or intelligence, or a reaction to stimuli, as in the case of the five senses).

Cite, site, sight: Sight is to see, cite is to reference, and site is a place, including websites.

Died, dyed. The mortician dyed aunt Lulu’s hair bright pink after she died, poor thing.

Isle, aisle. An aisle is what you’d walk down during your dream wedding on that uninhabited tropical isle.

Grate, great: A grate is that thing in the ground your keys fall into when you’re already running late for an interview. “Oh, that’s just great” is what you mutter if you like to keep it clean.

Hi, high: Hi is a greeting, as in hello. High is where airplanes fly.

Hoard, horde, whored: Ah, the fantasy trilogy. The horde (vast group) of orcs will hoard (collect) all the women who have ever whored (prostituted) themselves. Commence battle scene.
Knot, not: You will not tie that knot. The Grammar Groupie does not appreciate being tied up.

Know, no. No is the opposite of yes. To know that is useful, indeed. Now is not related to these two words. Imagine the Grammar Groupie busting your kneecaps with a bat. Now stick an N in front of your response: N-ow! Means in the moment.

Miner, minor: A miner goes down a shaft to extract precious baubles, not a minor (small) job, danger-wise.

Won, one: Our team won only one game this season. Sad.

Pear, pair, pare: I pared (peeled or cut) a pair (two, usually matching in some way) of pears (delicious, juicy tree fruit).

Poor, pour, pore: To be poor is to be without things of worth, be it money, be it intellect, etc. To pour is to cause a stream of something, usually a liquid, to come forth or out of a container, or into another container. To pour milk into a cup. Pores are those little holes all over your face. Unless you’ve been airbrushed. Then you become an alien.

Straight, strait. Please sail the boat straight (in a line) through that strait (narrow body of water between two land masses).

Time, thyme: I don’t honestly see this one very often, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning it, in honor of my fellow snarker, Amanda. Time is what passes quickly when you’re having fun, slowly when you’re at your crap job. Thyme is an herb, lovely with poultry.

To, too, two. Two is a number (2). Too means also. To is for every other use you can think of involving to. Tow is not related and will not be caught by spellchecker, because it is, indeed, a word. Keep an eye out for it.

Waist, waste: Waist: the lovely slope between the chest and the hips. Waste: what you must do to your junk food in order to obtain the lovely slope between the chest and the hips.

Wait, weight: It requires a long wait, sometimes, to lose that baby weight. *sigh*

Ware, wear, where: You can wear the wares from that dreadful store in the mall where you like, but don’t expect the Grammar Groupie to be seen with you.

You’re, yore, your: Apply rule, expand contractions: you’re = you are. Yore is a collection of
traditional stories, legends and history. Your is possessive. Your bad taste, your wares from that dreadful mall shop.

Truly, not an exhaustive list, but a collection of homophones common enough to look out for. Feel free to list your favorite-to-hate homophones in the comments section.

Cheers, The Grammar Groupie
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Pure awesomeness.

    Misuse of two/too/to, in particular, greats...I mean grates...on my nerves.

    *Bows to the wiseness of the grammar nazi*

  2. Don't forget medal, meddle, and mettle!
    Bear, bare
    reign, rein

    Yeah, being well-read is one of the best ways to combat Homophonia.

    Thanks for a fun post!

  3. TereLiz - those are great additions! Thank you. :) And, lol at "homophonia" - that's a great term!

  4. Heh, homophonia. :)

    Oooh! Anecdote and antidote! Okay, they don't sound exactly the same. But someone *cough* could easily mistake them...not me though.... ;)

  5. *Bows with Kaitlin* lol

    Great information, Kristin!
    Looking forward to affect/effect.

  6. Wow, I struggle with those to, no too.


  7. Great post!

    Just wanted to avoid any further confusion for those with Homophonia... In the Died/Dyed line, you accidentally put 'died' both times.

    The first time (where the hair is 'died') should be dyed.

    Thanks for taking the time to put all this helpful information in such a funny format :)!

  8. Ha, brilliant catch, G.G.! Thank you!


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Item Reviewed: Homophones, or, See Those People Over There? They're Their Worst Nightmare Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook