A professional editor must be clear about the variant spellings and meanings of the most commonly used words in the English language, known as homophones. To begin with, homophones are defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “one of two or more words (as to, too, two) pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling.” Since homophones are tricky, they trip up even the most seasoned writers. Furthermore, the misspelling of even one word can potentially lead to a drastic change in meaning. The change could be radically different than what the writer originally intended. Therefore, it is essential to have a professional editor review your work.

First of all, homophones are commonly used in every type of writing. Because they are so common in the English language, using homophones correctly is essential. Most of the time homophones are spelled correctly by writers, but not used correctly. As a result, most spell-checkers do not mark these misused words as mistakes. You can easily see why the eyes of a seasoned professional editor are so important when editing your document. A professional editor is able to catch the misuse of homophones in your text so your writing is viewed for its content and not its mistakes. Finally, below is a list of some common homophones, which, for the most part, keep us professional editors on our toes (please note that all definitions have been taken from Merriam-Webster):

Commonly Misused Homophones

there, their, they’re

there – “in or at that place”
their – “of or relating to them or themselves especially as possessors, agents, or objects of an action”
they’re – “they are”

bare, bear

bare – “lacking a natural, usual, or appropriate covering”
bear – “any of a family (Ursidae of the order Carnivora) of large heavy mammals of America and Eurasia that have long shaggy hair, rudimentary tails, and plantigrade feet and feed largely on fruit, plant matter, and insects as well as on flesh”

cite, sight, site

cite – “to call upon officially or authoritatively to appear (as before a court)”
sight – “something that is seen”
site – “the spatial location of an actual or planned structure or set of structures (as a building, town, or monuments)”

desert, dessert

desert – “arid land with usually sparse vegetation”
dessert – “a usually sweet course or dish (as of pastry or ice cream) usually served at the end of a meal”

hear, here

hear – “to perceive or apprehend by the ear”
here – “in or at this place”

know, no

know – “to perceive directly; have direct cognition of”
no – “used as a function word to express the negative of an alternative choice or possibility”

scene, seen

scene – “one of the subdivisions of a play”
seen – past participle of see – “to perceive by the eye”

More Tricky Misused Homophones

allowed, aloud

allowed – “to assign as a share or suitable amount (as of time or money) <allow an hour for lunch>”
aloud – “in a loud manner”

foreword, forward

foreword – “prefatory comments (as for a book) especially when written by someone other than the author”
forward – “near, being at, or belonging to the forepart”

groan, grown

groan – “to utter a deep moan indicative of pain, grief, or annoyance”
grown – “cultivated or produced in a specified way or locality”

idle, idol

idle – “lacking worth or basis”
idol – “a representation or symbol of an object of worship”

morning, mourning

morning – “the time from sunrise to noon”
mourning – “an outward sign (as black clothes or an armband) of grief for a person’s death”

nay, neigh

nay – “a negative reply or vote”
neigh – “to make the prolonged cry of a horse”

principal, principle

principal
– “most important, consequential, or influential”
principle – “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption”

rain, reign, rein

rain – “water falling in drops condensed from vapor in the atmosphere”
reign – “the dominion, sway, or influence of one resembling a monarch <the reign of the Puritan ministers>”
rein – “a strap fastened to a bit by which a rider or driver controls an animal”

vial, vile

vial – “a small closed or closable vessel especially for liquids”
vile – “morally despicable or abhorrent”

weak, week

weak – “lacking strength”
week – “any of a series of 7-day cycles used in various calendars”

yoke, yolk

yoke – “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together”
yolk – “the yellow spheroidal mass of stored food that forms the inner portion of the egg of a bird or reptile and is surrounded by the white”

A Final Thought About Commonly Misused Homophones

It seems especially relevant to have a list of homophones at the ready while writing and editing. Due to the vastness of information on the Internet, we can suffer from information overload when looking for assistance. What resources have you found especially relevant or helpful to review your work for correct homophone usage? As a result of using those resources, what did you find most helpful about them?

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