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Homophones

August 15th, 2008

One of the most frustrating aspects to learning English – or any language, for that matter – is how you can tell the difference between two words that are spelled alike. In Spanish, for example, the omittance of a mere accent mark or tilde over the letter “n” (like you see in the world Español) can drastically change the meaning of a word.

In English, however, one must also consider words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings, called homophones. Homophones don’t commonly exist in Spanish or other languages, where the presence of an accent mark will change the pronunciation of the word. So, it is important to consider the context of the word and understand when the correct spelling and pronunciation are appropriate. Note: homophones are most important to consider when writing and reading English, rather than speaking.

A common homophone you will often encounter is the word set “they’re, there, and their.” They all are pronounced the same, but they obviously are spelled differently and boast separate meanings. “They’re” is the contraction for “they are,” as seen in the sentence “They’re (they are) coming to dinner tonight.” “There” is an adverb that describes a location and is usually referred to as the opposite of the word “here”: “I put the boxes over there, by the cabinet, rather than here at my desk.” For Spanish speakers, “there” is also used like the word “Hay,” as in “There is a lot to do “(in Spanish: hay mucho que hacer). Finally, “their” is used as a third person possessive adjective, as seen in “Rover is their dog” (“their” describes to whom the dog belongs…it belongs to them, so it’s their dog).

Another common mistake occurs when people write the word “you’re.” This word, like “they’re,” is a contraction for “you are,” as seen in the sentence “You’re (you are) so handsome.” “Your,” like “their,” is a second person possessive adjective, as seen in “Rover is your dog” (the dog belongs to you, so it’s your dog). However, many people tend to write “your” when they really should have written “you’re,” and this is either due to laziness or ignorance of the difference between the words.

Below is a list of common homophones and their article of speech, along with examples of sentences for each pair:

Write I prefer to write with a pencil rather than with a pen. (verb)
Right Turn right at the next street. (Or, when you want to use it to mean “correct”: That’s the right answer, good job!) (adverb, adjective)


Red I am wearing a red shirt. (adjective)
Read I read a great book yesterday. (Note: “Read” in this case is the past tense form of the verb “to read.” The present tense pronunciation of the verb sounds like “reed.”) (verb)


Way Please show me the correct way to go to the theater. (noun)
Weigh The scale shows that I weigh 120 pounds. (verb)


Meat Is there any meat in the lasagna? (noun)
Meet Let’s meet at the restaurant at noon. (verb)


See Can you see what the sign says over there? (verb)
Sea Barcelona is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. (noun)


To To whom should I direct your call? (preposition)
Two There will be two of us at dinner tonight. (adjective)
Too I am getting married soon, too! (interjection)