Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Homonym Primer for Writers: Did You Sea/See There/Their Mistake?

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

Homonyms are no laughing matter.
Homonym – A word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air or bear and bare.

I love editors. They are a breed all their own. A bit OCD and leaning toward a perfectionist’s mentality, they are the eyes that make our writing spotless. Clean. Grammatically. . . spit-shined. Without them, many of us would be . . .well, let’s just say, we wouldn’t look as good as we do. But, if you want to have some fun with an editor, mess with a homonym and watch their eyes begin to roll.

Homonyms are, in some ways, tricky, but for the most part, it’s our lack of attention to them cause us to look bad. Writer’s fingers key faster than their brains work and it happens. The wrong word is chosen. Even Microsoft Word in all its glory can only search for misspelled words. In the case of a homonym, the words aren’t misspelled, making spell check useless. This is when due diligence is important.

 I recently reviewed a critique at a conference. This is what I saw:

She called there home. Sent them notes. But it wasn’t until Meg knocked on their door to bear her indiscretions, that Jon realized her fear.

Don't let pesky homonyms rear their
ugly heads in your writing.
Those pesky homonyms reared their ugly heads and in this case, made an advanced writer look sloppy.

Some homonyms are easily confused, such as bear and bare especially when portions of their meaning are similar.

Bear – an animal; give testimony (bear false witness); give birth
Bare – to support or uphold; naked; basic and simple

Then there are those homonyms that prove to be writer laziness or unwillingness to proof and correct. For example: Their – possessive case of they; belonging to, and there – a place.

Whatever the case, homonyms are basic mechanics in writing and a vital part of the self-editing process. Practice due diligence and professionalism in your writing by watching carefully for homonyms.

Below is a short list of commonly misused homonyms. Check out www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html for a more complete listing.

 Now it's your turn, what homonyms would you add to the list?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Don't let #homonyms rear their ugly heads in your #writing - tips from @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

A #homonym primer for writers from @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cindy Sproles is an author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live aLife of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into theWoman You Can Be. Cindy's debut fiction novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Cindy This is so helpful. Thank you so much. With auto correct on my computer, I miss some of those pesky homonyms

  2. This was so helpful. Thank you Cindy. I am terrible at editing especially those pesky homonyms.

  3. Love the chart, thanks for sharing. These are my pet peeves especially when I see them used on commercial signs and wonder why people can't proofread before they put something in concrete for the world to see.

    1. Oh..I've seen them on commercial signs too. It's like nails on a blackboard. :)

  4. Fun post! And I'm with Barbara--great post. Many years ago, I used to substitute teach. As something fun for the day, I'd let the students play a game of coming up with as many homonyms as they could. Whoever had the longest list got a prize at the end of the day. :)

    I think some that I see misused often are ones you mentioned in your post: Their, There and They're. There's also fare and fair. Stare and Stair. I could go on, but I'll stop. :)

    Loved this post.

  5. Brilliant! I did not realize how much I needed this information! I have saved the recommended list. Thank you so much, dear Cindy!

    1. Awe...I've never been called brilliant. Thanks. Will you come live with me and encourage me everyday? Grin.

  6. Heel/heal, waist/waste there are probably loads of others too....

  7. This is wonderful. I hope the right people see it. My pet peeve is wrong word usage. I have quit reading many books because of these third grade elementary mistakes. Thank you for putting this out there.

    1. I keep this list by my computer and continue to add to it.

  8. Oh...how about adding hear/here and past/passed.

  9. There, They're, Their you go again, being all helpful. :-) Thank you for the timely reminder. I especially appreciate the chart. It pointed out some words I hadn't thought about. As always, I really learned a lot from you. Maybe you should do your next post on the us of "ly" words.