With so many different words that sound exactly the same, English challenges learners not only to spell them correctly but also to tell them apart while listening. This article should help new learners with some of the most commonly confused homophones.
Have you ever wondered how many words the English language has? The Oxford English Dictionary currently contains 171,476 words. It’s easy to see why language learners get confused with homonyms, homophones, homographs, synonyms, and antonyms. So, for now, let’s focus on homophones.
Homophones are words and phrases that have different meanings, but sound exactly the same when pronounced. You won’t notice people confusing homophones in speech, but the problem is: they are spelled differently. Try to notice what’s wrong with these sentences:
- I’m going to the doctor this weak.
- He told a really boring tail last night.
Weak does not mean the same as week, and tail does not mean the same as tale. With these mistakes, we end up with sentences that don’t make sense.
There is one proven strategy that helps you use homophones accurately: knowing what part of speech the homophone belongs to, learning its spelling, and making sure of the context you can use it in.
As a reference, Emily Waldman, a grammar tutor at Essaysontime, gave these simple recommendations when learning homophones:
- Practice matching homophones with definitions and images.
- Test the way you use homophones in context by filling in the blanks in different sentences.
- Write down dictated sentences and check to see if you got the homophones correct.
- Make your own alphabetical list of homophones in pairs.
- Write your own sentences where you use those homophone pairs in the right context.
- Pay attention to apostrophes in contracted forms, for example: it’s and its. Practice using them correctly!
I’ll help you to learn how to use homophones. Let’s start by listing the most commonly used homophones. Pay attention to the context in which they are used in and try to understand what each word means by intuition. Don’t forget to write down the impressions and keep practicing!
Aisle, isle, and I’ll:
Aisle is the word for the narrow path between rows of seats or shelves of goods. Isle is word for a small island. I’ll means I will.
- Her father took her down the aisle.
- I pick a different isle for each vacation.
- I’ll rest today.
Buy, by, and bye:
Buy, a verb, means buying (purchasing) something. By is a preposition; we use it when we want to say that one object is near another. Bye is a farewell – good bye.
- I really need to buy groceries. The fridge is empty!
- The cat is sitting by the door.
- Thanks for everything. Bye!
Bare and bear:
Bare is an adjective that means uncovered, empty, or naked. Bear is the animal.
- I gave you my bare heart and you broke it.
- I want to see a panda bear.
Break and brake:
Break is a verb meaning smashing or dividing something. Brake is a noun used for the device that stops vehicles from moving.
- This is a crystal glass. Be careful not to break it!
- There’s something wrong with my car brakes
Bite, byte, and bight:
Bite is a verb. It means biting into something with our teeth. Byte is a noun describing a group of binary digits. Bight is a curve in a river or coastline.
- A dog will bite you if you provoke it
- A byte usually consists of 8 bits
- I just saw pictures of the Great Australian Bight
Cite, site, and sight:
Cite is a verb, it means putting someone else’s words in citation. Site is a noun and a synonym of area. Sight is also a noun, which we often use instead of view.
- I have to cite the author when writing essays
- The Eiffel Tower is the best site in Paris
- There’s a beautiful sight through my window
Four, for, and fore:
Four is the number. For is a preposition, meaning with the purpose of. Fore is an adjective meaning situated in front, but it can also be a noun or adverb.
- I have four best friends
- I’ll do anything for you
- I don’t like the fore part of this car
Here and hear:
Here indicates a place, and hear is a verb that means you can intercept sounds.
- I love living here.
- I can’t hear what you’re saying.
Lye and lie:
Lie can be a verb – we use it to describe the horizontal position of a body or object. It can also be a noun, which means something opposite to truth. Lye is a noun that stands for a chemical substance.
- Lye is an alkaline solution.
- I’m tired, I need to lie down.
- You just told a complete lie.
Than and then:
We use than to make comparisons, and then when we talk about a moment in time.
- Mary is wiser than Tim
- I’ll finish this book and then I’ll start a new one
Whether and weather:
Whether is a conjunction which shows uncertainty, and weather is a noun we use to describe the state of the atmosphere.
- I don’t know whether or not to forgive him.
- The weather is perfect for a walk.
These are the most common of the many homophones you’ll come across when learning English. It’s not easy to learn how to use them correctly in writing. However, challenges are always fun to overcome! Build up on this list of homophones and keep practicing!
Sophia Anderson is an associate educator, English language tutor and freelance writer at Essaysontime. She is passionate about covering topics on learning, teaching, writing, self-improvement, motivation and others. She believes in the driving force of positive attitude and constant development. Talk to her on Facebook or LinkedIn.