Homonyms: Five Tips to Help you use the Write Word

If you’re reading this article, you’ll see the title and say, “I see what you did there.” However, if you’re listening to it, or if English isn’t your first language, it may be a little difficult to understand the pun.

The reason for this is the words write and right are homophones. These are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. So, although these words sound interchangeable, they aren’t.

To communicate clearly, it’s important writers consider their words choices carefully. Sometimes we aren’t aware that we’re using the incorrect word because when we’ve heard it said out loud it sounds the same as the one we’ve written down.

I’ve listed five common homophones and how to help you tell the difference between the two.

The definitions I’m using for all of the words in this blog are provided by the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.

Branch covered in hoar frost.

Affect and Effect

I hear a lot of complaints about these two words, especially from ESL friends I’ve had over the years. There are many different definitions for these two words, but the most common usage is what I’ve outlined below.

Affect: Usually this is a transitive verb meaning “to produce an effect upon.” If you have to use affect in a sentence, remember it’s about action.

Effect: Often this is used as a noun “something that inevitably follows an antecedent (such as a cause or agent.)” One way to remember this is effect is about the end result.

The effect of global warming will affect everyone.

Insure and Ensure

These two are a bit trickier because the difference in their meaning can be subtle.

Insure: When using this word, you’re inferring that you want to protect something you have invested in or have interest in. “To provide or obtain insurance for” or “to make certain, especially by taking necessary measures and precautions.”

Think about your home insurance or car insurance. You’re protecting yourself from liability if something happens.

Ensure: This is an action word. To ensure is to make sure of. Merriam Webster defines ensure as “to make certain or safe.”

When buying a vehicle, you have to ensure that you insure it or you will get a ticket.

Accept and Except

Another pair of words that are easy to mix up. Accept is generally used in a more positive manner unless the word not is placed before it. Except would be considered more negative as it is excluding something.

Accept: Again, there are many different definitions for this word, but the most common usage is “to receive (something offered) willingly.” It may also mean “to give admittance or approval to.” Accept is a verb.

Except: This word is used when something is being excluded or left out. It means “to take or leave out from a number or a whole.”

We all have to accept this gift, except for you.

Access and Excess

The pronunciation of these words can make it difficult to differentiate what you’re hearing unless you see it on paper.

Access: This word can be used as both a noun and a verb it means “permission, liberty or ability to enter, approach, or pass to and from a place or to approach and communicate with a person or thing.” If you are allowed into a building, you have access to it.

Excess: In layman’s terms, this usually means too much. It’s an adjective that means “the state or an instance of surpassing usual, proper or specified limits.” As an adjective this word is used to describe or modify a noun.

She had to access the computer files to find out why there was excess money in the account.

Whore and Hoar

It might be good for a giggle, but it’s definitely embarrassing if these words get mixed up.

Whore: This word is a noun used to describe people, “a person who engages in sexual intercourse for pay.” It’s an old-fashioned word but is still used today. Some people use it as an insult.

Hoar: This word is typically used to describe the frost that sometimes forms after a humid winter day. Merriam Webster defines it as “hoary” which in turn means “extremely cold” or “gray or white with or as if with age.” Hoar frost is a thick, beautiful coating of frost.

The whore enjoyed looking at the hoar frost on the trees.

There are many other homonyms and homophones in the English language. Depending on the native language a person is coming from, some homophones will be more difficult than others.

Can you think of any other common homonyms that get mixed up? Comment below!

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