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Homophones

Homophones are words which sound the same, have different meanings or origins, and the same or different spelling. Here are some examples.
The exact pronunciation of words depends on geographical area, social class and other factors, but here is a collection of words usually so close in sound as to be at least confusing.
The list is by no means complete.
air/heir
We have clean air here in Finland.
Prince Charles is heir to (will inherit) the British throne.
aisle/isle/I’ll
Aisles separate blocks of seats in a theatre.
Aisles also run between the shelves in a supermarket.
Isle is Scottish for island, as in the Isle of Sky.
I’ll look for the meats in that aisle over there.
aloud/allowed
He read the book aloud to his child.
It is not allowed to enter this area.
a part/apart
He read only a part of the book to his child.
They have been living apart for years now, although still married.
Apart from being a murderer, he really is quite a nice chap 😉
ate/eight
He ate eight pears.
bear/bare
Some US citizens claim the right to bear (carry) arms (weapons).
In the summer I like to have bare (uncovered) arms.
Bare steel needs to be protected with paint or galvanising.
been/bean
Have you been to see the new Mr Bean movie?
Bean sprouts are becoming very popular.
I prefer baked beans on toast.
break/brake
I’m tired, let’s take a break.
Be careful! Don’t break it, it’s made of glass.
I have just had the brakes fixed on my car.
cash/cache
I don’t have much cash with me, would you take a cheque?
When I need cash I go to an ATM.
A cache is a hidden store of something for later use.
Geocaching is a new sport where you find hidden things by GPS.
caught/court
He caught the thief who was running away.
The thief had to go to court, and was sent to prison.
I would love to have a tennis court in my garden.
cellar/seller
I keep old furniture and fine wines in my cellar (basement).
The fruit seller worked from a stall in the market.
cygnet/signet
A cygnet is a young swan.
A signet ring has a seal set in it.
faze/phase
He was completely fazed (confused/shocked) by the news.
ABB makes three-phase electric motors.
grate/great
The old house had an open fireplace,so I lit a fire in the grate (metal grill for this purpose).
That was fun! We had a great day.
hoarse/horse
His voice was hoarse (rough) from shouting.
His horse ran away.
its/it’s
I gave the dog its food.
It’s a red car.
flu/flew/flue
I had the flu last month.
I flew to Rome last summer.
The smoke from a fireplace travels up through the flue, which is contained inside the chimney stack.
lays/laze
He lays down in the sun.
A bricklayer lays bricks.
He has all day to laze around (be lazy or relaxed).
leak/leek
The ministry leaked the information to the press.
A leek is a vegetable of the onion family.
meat/meet
Our freezer is full of elk meat.
It was nice to meet you.
moan/mown (Am. mowed)
He moaned in pain.
The grass was mown (cut) yesterday.
The machine is a lawn mower.
moose/mousse
A moose is an animal similar to an elk.
A mousse is a light fluffy dessert.
morning/mourning
I like to get up early in the morning.
Someone in mourning is feeling sadness after someone has died.
Mourning is also the process of coming to terms with such a loss.
nun/none
The nun prayed for the children.
The boy asked for money, but his father had none.
our/hour
Our lunch hour is nearly over.
pair/pear/pare
He bought a pair of gloves.
He ate the pear straight from the tree.
He pared away the bark from the stick with a knife (but we ‘peel’ fruit and potatoes etc).
pane/pain
The boys broke two panes (complete pieces) of glass before the police came.
He was in great pain when he broke his leg.
paws/pores/pause
My dog has huge paws (feet).
We sweat through pores in our skin.
I put the video on pause when the doorbell rang.
peal/peel
I heard the peal (particular sound) of church bells.
You should peel an orange before you eat it.
plane/plain
Plane is short for aeroplane or airplane.
Fast boats plane over the waves.
A plain is a broad flat area of land.
I prefer plain simple food, not fancy spicy food.
A plain-clothes police officer does not wear a uniform.
practise/practice
You must practise English every day. (verb)
My English practice is going well. (noun)
pray/prey
The nun prayed for the children.
The lion (predator) stalked its prey (carefully followed its lunch).
raise/rays/raze
They will never raise (lift) the Titanic.
The evening sun’s rays shone through the window onto the dusty television screen.
To raze a building or a town is to completely destroy it.
reign/rein/rain
Queen Elizabeth II has reigned (been in power) since 1952.
You can steer the horse with the reins.
You rein in the horse (make it stop).
It looks cloudy, I think it will rain tomorrow.
right/rite/write/wright
He is right-handed.
Everyone has the right to go into the forest and pick berries.
A rite is a religious ceremony or ritual.
The last rites are given when someone dies.
I will write the letter.
A playwright writes plays and a wheelwright makes wheels.
route/root
For a long journey, careful route planning is important.
Oak trees have enormous root systems, going deep into the ground.
sale/sail
They have a sale on in that shop.
My house is for sale.
I must buy a new sail for my yacht.
should’ve
Not strictly a homonym, but should’ve is a contraction of should have – NOT should of.
sale/sail
They have a sale on in that shop.
My house is for sale.
I must buy a new sail for my yacht.
scene/seen
The scene (panorama), as seen from the upstairs window, is beautiful.
The playwright skillfully set the scene for the murder.
Have you seen the new play at the theatre?
sight/site
The sea is a beautiful sight on a sunny day.
a building site (place) – a website
This is the site of an old battle (historic place).
so/sew/sow
..and so on = etc
What was lunch like? Oh, it was so-so (not good, not bad).
We were taught to sew with a needle and thread.
In the spring, farmers sow seeds.
steak/stake
I like to eat steak and onions.
He has a large stake (investment/holding) in this company.
An oak stake was driven through the vampire’s heart.
He staked a claim on the gold mine.
steal/steel
It is a crime to steal another’s property.
Steel is a strong but flexible ferrous metal.
sweet/suite
Sweet foods are usually bad for the teeth.
I just bought a three-piece suite (matching sofa and two chairs).
We have just moved into a new office suite (collection of rooms).
All our hotel rooms are en-suite (they have private bathrooms).
The musical composer has just published a new suite (a collection of movements that go together).
talk/torque
I’d like to talk to you about something.
Diesel engines have great low-end torque.
taught/tort
We were taught to sew with a needle and thread.
Legal term – trespass (going on someone’s land without permission) is not crime in the UK, it is a tort, you have to take private action in the courts (i.e. sue for damages).
tea/tee
I had a cup of tea.
Golf term – the golf ball is placed on the tee (plastic holder) for the first shot of each hole.
there/their/they’re
The book you are looking for is over there.
Their house is that one over there.
Do you thing they’re (they are) going to stay there long?
Time/thyme
I didn’t have time to add the thyme (a herb)to the stew.
tire/tyre
Little children tire easily.
We change to winter tyres (Am. tires) in October.
toe/tow
We have five toes on each foot.
His car was too small to tow a caravan.
vane/vain/vein
A vane is a blade of a windmill, water or wind turbine.
He was so vain that he really believed he was better than others.
Blood goes to our limbs through arteries and returns through veins
wave/waive
He waved (his hand) to her from across the street.
A huge wave, caused by an undersea earthquake, is called a tsunami.
He waived (gave up) his right to have a lawyer defend him, and decided to defend himself.
Let’s waive the formalities and get straight down to business.
weak/week
He was weakfrom hunger.
Last week we were on holiday.
Whether/weather/wether(‘Whether’ is similar to ‘if’)
Whether the weather is good, or whether the weather is bad, the wether (castrated male sheep) is content on the hillside.


35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Godfrey Pool
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 17:43:07

    I like this sort of stuff Malcolm, could you have had “raze” to the groud with rays and raise

    Reply

    • Malcolm Pemberton
      Sep 24, 2011 @ 08:25:25

      Hi Godfrey,
      Indeed I could, and I shall – thanks!
      I thought up another six or so homonyms yesterday, but haven’t had time to update. I have to update the table on my computer first, and upload the whole thing fresh each time. It’s actually easier than making changes online.
      Have a nice weekend!
      Malcolm.

      Reply

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      Nov 01, 2011 @ 13:07:54

      Thank you Thora!
      I wish I had more time to ‘play with words’ – this little bit of free time I have now has been provided as some of my students are on strike. So, nothing is all bad.

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