What Are Homophones and Why Are They Important?

Do you remember your English teacher in grade school or high school painstakingly teaching you about homophones? Do you remember what homophones are and when to use them? When it comes to written communications that contain important and meticulous instructions, misusing a word can not only cause confusion, but could produce some incorrect or unsafe consequences.

So just what is a homophone? According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, a homophone is one of two or more words such as “night” and “knight,” that are pronounced the same, but differ in meaning, origin and sometimes spelling. Should we make a big deal about how these words are used or spelled? Absolutely!

It became evident to me that the misuse of homophones is a growing issue, even in the realm of technical writing among college graduate courses. After the first few errors that I found where homophones were misused in some lecture presentations for a few of my graduate classes, I began to realize that it just wasn’t a typographical error, but a literary faux pas. In high school, I remember my English teachers instructing us on how to use homophones in relation to a word’s specific definition, in order to avoid misinterpretations and confusion in communications. In writing, you will clearly have some type of error from time to time, but this is when proofreading a document, manuscript or policy manual is of utmost importance, especially when time-sensitive material has to be interpreted with accuracy.

Here are a few commonly misused homophones that are still surprisingly found in some professional and informal written communications:

1. Wear, ware, where

2. Whether, weather

3. Soar, sore

4. There, their

5. Pour, poor, pore

6. To, too, two

7. Sweet, suite

8. Plough, plow

9. Pair, pear

10. Write, right

11. Scent, sent, cent

12. Time, Thyme

Test yourself to see if you understand how to use the above words in its proper context and intended sentence structure. How can you improve your ability to properly use homophones?

1. Utilize your dictionary and/or thesaurus frequently.

2. When typing on the Word processor of your computer, use your “spell check” feature to check the spelling and grammar of many words and phrases that are color detected by a red, blue or green underline. Sometimes the spell check feature may not catch every misspelled word the way you may use it, because it could be the correct spelling of a word you are not familiar with. Also, the spell check feature may try to correct some of your formal or informal names and words that you do not want corrected. Be mindful of the capabilities when using this feature to check for spelling and grammatical errors.

3. Do not hesitate to seek guidance on correct word usage from an English teacher or professor of literature. There may be some professional writers who could also help you with homophone variations.

In our society where clear and detailed-oriented communications is imperative to the various facets of our lives, improper use of homophones could be a liability in your decision making process.