Commonly Confused Homophones
Homophones are words that sound identical, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. The following are definitions of some commonly confused homophones, followed by simple mnemonic tricks that writers can use to double check whether they are using the correct forms for the correct meanings.
Principle vs. PrincipalA principle is used only as a noun, meaning an idea, or ideal, that is used to guide decision making. A principal is an administrator of rank; a person charged with making decisions. When I was of school age, I was helped to remember the distinction by saying to myself:
- The school principal is my pal.
Capitol vs. CapitalCapitol is a very specific word, with strictly limited uses. It is a noun, meaning a building that houses a state legislature. It is also used as a proper noun, Capitol, only when referring to that building which houses the U.S. federal legislature in Washington, D.C. Capital has multiple meanings and uses, one of which is referring to a municipality that plays host to the legislative apparatus of a state or country. Hence,
- The state legislators meet 3 times a week inside the capitol building in Albany, the capital of New York state.
Compliment vs. ComplementA compliment is something said that is flattering. Complement means something completes a set or is a flattering addition to something. One spelling has an ‘i,’ the other has an ‘e.’ We can remember the difference by saying to ourselves, “I like to give compliments.”
- I complimented the host on the menu, saying, “the hors d’oeuvres were the perfect complement to the main course.”