I love homonyms. These words sound the same but are spelled differently. They are sneaky little gremlins that trip up even the most seasoned pro. I often get a giggle when I see a wayward homonym in a text. “Caught you!”

I even like the word homonym, which comes from the Greek word homonumos, meaning having the same name. Precisely speaking, a homonym is either a homophone (words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and mean different things.

For example: so, sew, sow) or a homograph (words that sound different, but are spelled the same. For example: sow (female pig) and sow (plant seeds). As a writing teacher, I see homonym mishaps all the time. I believe that this is a direct result of people not reading enough books.

homonym sewSow is a homonym

Those who don’t read tend to hear the word in their head and write it without the proper context. Unfortunately, those who don’t read don’t often see homonyms in sentences so they don’t learn to discriminate between these pesky little gremlins.

 

Here are a few of the worse homonym offenders*:

so, sew, sow

there, they’re, their

your, you’re

its, it’s

affect, effect

to, too, two

stationary, stationery

capitol, capital

Then, of course, there is the dreaded heteronym, which are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. For example: desert (arid land) and desert (abandon).

How do you avoid these hilarious missteps? Read more books!

* if you aren’t sure when to use these homonyms, look them up and memorize them. The homonyms that are also contractions (meaning there is an apostrophe) can be overcome by saying in your head, “it is” or “it is possessive,” or “you are” or “this is yours.”