Tutorial on Homophones and Homographs

By: Rachel Camargo, Heath Burch, Jaila Cunningham, Mary Glick & Clare Mangin

How to use homophones and homographs when communicating written or orally

Professional writing is an important part of communication. The first grammar issue to address is the homophone and how to use it correctly. People of all education levels struggle with the use of homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings. It is important to understand how to use homophones to avoid errors when communicating. One word can change the meaning of a sentence. It can be easy to confuse homophones and easy to use the wrong word. Using a homophone’s incorrect form makes writing look unprofessional. It can take away credibility of the person.

An example of a major homophone issue is there, their, and they’re. Many do not know which one to use in the appropriate context. The word “there” is an adverb used to express something or someone in or at a place. An example would be, “She will be there in 10 minutes.” There can also be a pronoun. For example, “There is still hope for a cure.” On the other hand, the pronoun their shows ownership and is used with plural or singular nouns. Ex: “The basketball team left their basketball shoes in the locker room.” An example of using it with a singular noun, “Someone left their phone on the table.” Finally, the word they’re is a contraction of the words they and are. They’re is equal to they are. Ex: “They’re looking for a house in California.” When using the word they’re, make sure that it would make sense in a sentence as they are. When determining which form to use think about the spelling of each word. Their has the word “heir” in it which gives a hint to ownership. The word there has “here” in it which indicates that it is a place. The word they’re has an apostrophe which means two words combine to form the word.

The misuse of affect and effect is common in business letters, memos, and emails. Most of the time affect is a verb and effect is a noun, but there are some exceptions. Affect means to influence or change something. Example: “Your poor grammar affects your credibility.” A hint on remerging that affect is an action, just remember that it starts with an A. The use of affect as a noun, referring to an emotion or feeling, is acceptable. Example: “The patient had a minor affect to the counseling session.” Effect is a noun and is the result of an influence or change. An example is, “The medicine prescribed had a bad effect on my health.”  An easy way to remember how to use it, is to remember the concept of cause and effect. Use effect when it is the consequence of something. Effect is a verb in specific situations. When used as a verb it is usually with the nouns “change” or “solutions”. An example: “The protestors want to effect change in global warming.”  These common terms are essential in business communication . When in question just think about whether a noun or verb is appropriate.

In business writing the words ensure and insure may appear. However, the word insure involves insurance and stays with that context. Insurance agencies use insure often. Example: “The company should insure its workers to protect them.” Ensure means to guarantee or make sure of something. For example: “The thief looked around to ensure nobody else was around before he stole the jewelry.” When deciding which word to use, just remember that insure relates to insurance. If insurance is not the subject, then ensure is most likely the correct word to use.

Another important set of homophones to know well is hear and here. When communicating in business these words appear often. “I can’t wait to here back from you!” This sentence is incorrect because the word here means a place or position. The word hear would be the correct word to use because it means to come in contact with or to perceive sound with the ear. An example of the correct use of here follows, “Meet me here, at the front entrance.”  Example using hear, “If I don’t hear from you soon, I will assume that you do not want the car.” A way to remember the difference between the two, is to know that the word hear has the word “ear” in it. If the action requires you to listen with your ear, then you should use hear.

Not only are there, their, and they’re confusing, but also the words too, two, and to. The easiest of the three to identify is two. Two refers to the number and shows the value of 2. Example: “I want to adopt two cats this weekend.” To is a preposition that refers to a place, position, or direction. Example: “I went to Europe this summer to study abroad.” Too is an adverb that means also or additionally. “My friends want to join the club too.” “I was too tired to do my homework last night.” “Additionally” can take place of the word too. This is a hint when deciding to use the word too. To remember how to use the word to, take it out of the sentence and if it does not make sense that means it is the right one. All forms can be put together in a sentence. For example, “Two guys went to the store, but they did not get everything they need because they were too excited to get home for the football game.”

There are ways to avoid problems with homophones in writing. One way is to memorize how and when a word fits and what context it fits best in. For example, the word deer would be strange to use in the heading of an email or letter. It would make more sense to use dear. Simply remembering and studying certain words will help reduce errors. The ones that are found most difficult become easy when memorized. Another way to help with homophones is to expand vocabulary. The more words that are known, the easier it will be to know what word to use or even switch out the word for another. If homophones still seem confusing, there are multiple online sources that explain even further and give more examples with videos and pictures. Revising one’s work can be the difference from great writing to bad writing. Minor errors can be caught by taking a minute to proofread an email, letter, proposal, etc. Having others read your work is better because sometimes it’s hard to find errors in your own work.

When using oral communication, it is possible that homographs will be said wrong. Homographs are two words with same spelling, but different pronunciation. When presenting a project or reading a report to a boss or team, pronouncing a word wrong could look unprofessional. Pronouncing a word wrong word could cause confusion or miscommunication with the person hearing the message. Some common examples include live, tear, read, wind, lead, close, etc. The word live would sound different in these examples: “I like to listen to live music on my free time.” “ I live in the suburbs of Indianapolis.” Another example: “Will you please close the door behind you?” and “I was close to my grandpa before he passed away last year.” When reading those sentences, different pronunciation was present. Minor errors with homographs become avoidable when knowing the context of the sentence. Knowing the context means that the words before the homograph are critical to knowing how to pronounce the word. Reading multiple times can help with this process. Taking these steps will help homographs errors become minimal. If there is still a question on how to pronounce a word, there are sources online that have the pronunciation of words and their definitions.

Using homophones and homographs the right way will allow communication to flow. Communication needs to be clear especially when communicating important information. There can be consequences to communication errors like confusion, loss of money, and loss of credibility. Effective verbal communication will help a business by giving clear information to remember. People will remember points and information when verbal communication is correct. With that being said people will also remember mistakes that were made. Written communication clarifies information and businesses rely on clear and conciseness to achieve that goal. Homophones and homographs may seem minor, but they can play a big role in communication. If used correct, communication becomes more effective when passing on information in the workplace. Multiple benefits in communication come from proper grammar and perfecting homophones and homographs help with better communication.

Here is a list of other common homophones:

  •  Know / No
  •  Brake / Break
  •  Be / Bee
  •  Complement / Compliment
  •  Hour / Our
  •  Whole / Hole
  •  Fair / Fare
  •  Dye / Die
  •  Cell / Sell
  •  Buy / By
  •  Coarse / Course
  •  Eye / I
  •  Cent / Scent
  •  Knot / Not

Here is a list of other common homographs:

  •  Lead
  •  Content
  •  Bow
  •  Bass
  •  Tear
  •  Polish


What do you think?

Written by Rachel Camargo


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