Grammar Tip: Homophones vs Homonyms

Do you know the difference homophones and homonyms? Do you know why it is important to know the difference? No? Well, that’s okay, that’s why I’m here. 🙂

Grammar Tip: Homophones vs homonyms

Image by ArtsyBee (2015) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

Homophones and Homonyms Defined

A homophone is a word that has the SAME SOUND as another word but is SPELLED DIFFERENTLY and has a DIFFERENT MEANING.

For example: Flour and flower are homophones. They sound the same but as you can see they are spelled differently and mean different things. (Flour is ground up wheat or other grain used for cooking and backing. Flower is the blossom of a plant, such as a rose flower or tulip flower.)

A homonym is a word that has the SAME SOUND and the SAME SPELLING as another word but has a DIFFERENT MEANING.

For example: Bat and bat are homonyms. They have the SAME SOUND and the SAME SPELLING but mean different things. (Bat as in the winged animal and bat as in the one used for baseball.)

What can be confusing, however, is that some words can be BOTH homophones and homonyms. That is because there are some words that sound the same but may or may not have the same spelling and they all have different meanings.

For example: Lie, lie, and lye are all homophones and homonyms. Lie and lie have the SAME SOUND and SAME SPELLING making them homonyms and lie and lye have the SAME SOUND but have DIFFERENT SPELLING and DIFFERENT MEANINGS making them also homophones. (Lie means to say something that in not true, lie means to lie down, and lye is a liquid chemical.)

Why Homophones and Homonyms Matter

After all that, you may be wondering why knowing what they are (as well as their similarities and differences) matter. Well, it is all about clarity. As a writer, YOU have the responsibility of making sure that what you want to say comes through to the reader. It is not the reader’s responsibility to try to figure out your meaning. Therefore, when you use words incorrectly, such as homophones and/or homonyms, you run the risk of confusing or annoying the reader (and you don’t want that!).

For example:

WRONG: Taylor is going to meat Sadie to go over the publication schedule. Meat is a food item not a verb. Can you see how silly the meaning of the sentence? It is like writing, “Taylor is going to food item Sadie to go over the publication schedule.” !?

CORRECT: Taylor is going to meet Sadie to go over the publication schedule. In this sentence, meet is a verb meaning to get together. If you substitute this definition, the sentence would be, “Taylor is going to get together with Sadie to go over the publication schedule.” Now that makes much more sense. 🙂

I know this “simple” explanation seems a bit complicated but it really isn’t. It just takes awareness and practice. I recommend you print out the downloadable version of this post by subscribing here and keep it handy. Then you can pull it out whenever you get confused. (Subscribers, go to your private page to download and print.)

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