Write Them Right. The Truth about Homophones.

What are homophones, you ask? They are words that sound alike but have different meanings and are spelled differently.

Few things stab a reader between the eyes like a misplaced homophone. Homophones are words that you have to train your brain for, because spellcheck will always think they’re fine. Because they are.

But they’re not. They’re very much not.

Now, I know y’all know the easy ones. Your mind will tell you when you’ve typed “knew” when you meant “new.”  The too, two, and to trio are also pretty simple to spot. Sometimes, we just type the wrong one.

But we don’t always know for sure, right?

One such uncertain homophonic trio that I see rather too much of, online, is the their, they’re, there group.

Their:  This is a possessive pronoun. Used as an adjective to describe ownership. This is their website. That is their house.  Their office hours are nine to six.

There:  This is a word often used to show a place and/or distance.  The phone is over there on the table.  I’m never going to make it there.  It’s also used like this:  There’s a light in the window.  This is to tell the place, but it can be used with indeterminate objects as well.

They’re:  This is a contraction for the words “they are.” If “they are” is not the meaning you’re going for in the sentence, this is not the proper form of the word to use.  They’re leaving on Monday.  They’re buying a new house. I don’t know if they’re on vacation.

And of course, the deadly group of peek, peak, and pique.

Here, I really believe that many fine writers just don’t know what words mean when they use them erroneously.

Peek:  See the two “e”s? Think of them as eyes. “Eyes” has two “e”s as well, right?  This is the word that has to do with seeing something.  Taking a peek into a room. Having a peek at the test. That kind of thing.

Peak:  This is the pinnacle of something.  The peak of a mountain.  The peak of her career. The peak of one’s energy.

and lastly…

Pique:  As a noun, it is a feeling of irritation or resentment.  You’ve heard of the alternate title for the Grapes of Wrath? It’s the Prunes of Pique.  Get it?  As a verb, it generally means to stimulate interest.  He piqued my curiosity with the mask.  My interest was piqued by the first paragraph.  I’m trying to pique your interest, dammit!

Another pairing of homophones that is sometimes goofed online is navel and naval.

Navel:  This has to do with one’s bellybutton, usually.  Sometimes, it can refer to the central point or middle of any thing or place.  He has a navel fetish. She has a navel piercing.  We prefer navel oranges. 

Naval: This has to do with ships. Warships or peacetime. It also concerns an actual Navy. I study English naval battles. The main employer here is the naval industry.

In short, there are many homophones that are frequently confused for one another.  They should have name tags, but that’s not an option when one is writing, so you really just have to learn them.  For a more comprehensive listing of these tricky words, I refer you to, of course, a website:  http://www.homophone.com.


LJ Summers is an experienced editor and a writer. With degrees in English and Ministry/Theology, she likes to consider herself a good student.  She believes strongly that good solid research combined with an active imagination will yield a great story. Her interests span the spectrum from ancient battle techniques of European Celts to modern internet phenomena. She welcomes visitors to her website: http://sandyquill.com

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