What is a Homonym…Well a Pair of Pears!

Homonyms are words that sound alike, but they do not have the same meaning. Unfortunately, they look just enough alike to get past the unwary writer. In addition, those pesky words may also escape the spell-check feature of the computer’s word processing program. They are meaningful words, just not the word the writer wants. However, the teacher (or the editor) will catch them, because they do not make sense right there.

The words their and there are a good example, (and the computer didn’t even tell the difference between them). The first word, their, means possession or ownership, as in the sentence “I have their coats.” (Never mind why I have them, or how those coats came to be with me, rather than with their rightful owners.) The second word, there, means place or location, as in the sentence “The coats are over there.”

Then there are the terrible triplets: to, too, and two, as if there weren’t enough trouble. The word to is a preposition, showing direction. (“Fly me to the moon.”) The word “too” means also, as in the question, “Do you want some too?” Two is the number that is more than one, as in “One, two, buckle my shoe.” In order to know which word is correct, it’s important to pay attention and ask the right questions.

The word its, meaning possession (“Every book has its cover.”) and the contraction it’s, meaning it is, often cause confusion. More than one sign painter has put in an extra apostrophe, and made the reader wonder. It’s not a mystery, when the writer knows what word is what. Try replacing the it word with the phrase it is. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, then leave out the apostrophe.

These are just a few homonyms that are easy to tell apart. Usually they come in pairs (not pears, which are fruit). They sound alike, but they do not look alike, nor do they mean the same thing. The careful writer can watch for spelling, even when the spell-check doesn’t catch the difference between them. It’s important to make a list of those troublesome word pairs, and develop strategies to choose the right word for the place in the sentence.

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