There are many words in English that appear to confuse the users of the language, especially for English as a Second Language Learners. These words have their distinct meanings, etymology (sources/origins) and orthography (spellings). Some of them look alike in terms of spelling, but they have different meanings; some sound the same in terms of pronunciation but they have different spellings while some are pronounced differently but they have same spellings.
Homophones in English with Definition and Examples
This post is dedicated to looking at words that belong to this category that are likely to confuse users of English language. These types of words belong to three distinct categories and they are Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs. There is something common to these classifications and that is the word “Homo” which carries the idea of “being the same”. Words that belong to each of these categories have some things in common which could be in terms of spelling or pronunciation. Let us consider one of these categories of words: Homophones
Homophones – Definition
A homophone is a word that has the same pronunciation with another word but which has a different spelling and meaning. In other words, homophonous words have same articulation but different orthography and meaning. It also means a written letter or combination of letters in English that represents the same speech sound as another; for instance,
‘ph’ and ‘f’ as in pharming and farming;
‘ch’ and ‘k’ as in chemical and kitten, etc.
Homophones – Examples
All the considered words in pairs or threes below have different spellings and meanings but same pronunciation. They are presented in a ten-set example:
Set 1 Examples
- Stationery – this is a noun that means any writing materials, such as paper, envelopes, pens, ink, rulers, etc.
- Stationary – an adjective that means not able to be moved, not moving or standing still.
- Aisle – a noun meaning a passageway which separates rows of seats in a church, theatre, etc. it is also called a ‘gangway’.
- Isle – a noun meaning a small island.
- Altar – a noun that denotes a raised place or structure where sacrifices are offered and religious rites performed.
- Alter – a verb that means to make or become different in some respect; change
- Blue – this noun denotes a colour such as that of a clear unclouded sky and forms part of the primary colour.
- Blew – this verb is the past tense of ‘blow’.
- Route – this noun means the choice of roads taken to get to a place or a regular journey travelled.
- Root – this is a noun that refers to the organ of a higher plant that anchors the rest of the plant in the ground, absorbs water and mineral salts from the soil. It also means the essential, fundamental, or primary part or nature of something.
Set 2 Examples
- Poll – a noun that means the casting, recording, or counting of votes in an election; a voting.
- Pole – this is also a noun that refers to a long slender usually round piece of wood, metal, or other material.
- Feat – a noun that means a remarkable, skilful, or daring action; exploit; achievement.
- Feet – a noun that describes the plural of foot.
- Bear – (noun) – a large omnivorous animal with a large head, a long shaggy coat, and strong claws. It is also a verb that means to tolerate or endure, support or hold up, hold something in one’s mind or feelings.
- Bare – an adjective that means unclothed; exposed: used of a part of the body. It also means without the natural, conventional, or usual covering or clothing.
- Cite – this is a verb that means to quote or refer to (a passage, book, or author) in substantiation as an authority, proof, or example.
- Site – this is a noun that refers to the piece of land where something was, is, or is intended to be located.
- Sight – a noun that refers the power or faculty of seeing; perception by the eyes; vision. It is also a verb that means to see, view, or glimpse.
- None – a pronoun that means not any of a particular class, no one or nobody.
- Nun – this is a noun that refers to a female member of a religious order.
Set 3 Examples
- Know – a verb that means to be acquainted or familiar with; to have a familiarity or grasp of, as through study or experience.
- No – this is an adverb used to express denial, disagreement, refusal, disapproval, disbelief, or acknowledgement of negative statements
- Right – an adjective meaning in accordance with accepted standards of moral or legal behaviour, justice, etc.
- Write – a verb meaning to draw or mark (symbols, words, etc.) on a surface, usually paper, with a pen, pencil, or other instruments.
- Rite – a noun referring to a formal act or procedure prescribed or customary in religious ceremonies.
- Stare – a verb that means to look or gaze fixedly, often with hostility or rudeness.
- Stair – a noun that means one of a flight of stairs; a series of steps.
- Fare – a noun that denotes the sum charged or paid for conveyance in a bus, train, aeroplane, etc.
- Fair – an adjective that means attractive or beautiful to look at, light in colour; just, impartial, free from discrimination or dishonesty. As a noun, it means a travelling entertainment with sideshows, rides, etc. that visits different places from time to time. It also means an exhibition, a regular assembly at a specific place for the sale of goods, etc.
- Pare – it is a verb that means to peel or cut (the outer layer) from (something); to cut the edges from (the nails); trim.
- Pear – a noun denoting a widely cultivated rosaceous tree, with white flowers and edible fruits. It also refers to the sweet gritty-textured juicy fruit of this tree, which has a globular base and tapers towards the apex.
Set 4 Examples
- Sweet – an adjective which means having or denoting a pleasant taste like that of sugar or something agreeable to the senses or the mind. It is also a noun that means any of numerous kinds of confectionery consisting wholly or partly of sugar boiled and crystallized.
- Suite – a noun that means a series of items intended to be used together; set; a number of connected rooms in a hotel forming one living unit.
- Quay – a noun that means a wharf, typically one built parallel to the shoreline.
- Key – a noun that denotes a metal instrument, usually of a specifically contoured shape, that is made to fit a lock and, when rotated, operates the lock’s mechanism.
- Rhyme – a noun that means the identity of the terminal sounds in lines of verse or in words; a word that is identical to another in its terminal sound.
- Rime – a noun that refers to frost formed by the freezing of supercooled water droplets in fog onto solid objects.
- Two – a noun representing the cardinal number that is the sum of one and one; a prime number; a numeral, 2, II, (ii), etc.
- Too – an adverb that means as well; in addition; also.
- Light – a noun meaning the medium of illumination that makes sight possible.
- Lite – an adjective in reference to food and drink which means containing few calories or little alcohol or fat.
Set 5 Examples
- Knight – a noun (in modern times) that means a person invested by a sovereign with a nonhereditary rank and dignity usually in recognition of personal services, achievements, etc. A British knight bears the title Sir placed before his name, as in Sir Winston Churchill. It also refers to a chess piece, usually shaped like a horse’s head, that moves either two squares horizontally and one square vertically or one square horizontally and two squares vertically
- Night – a noun representing the period of darkness every 24 hours between sunset and sunrise, as distinct from the day.
- Steel – a noun referring to any of various alloys based on iron containing carbon and often small quantities of other elements such as phosphorus, sulphur, manganese, chromium, and nickel.
- Steal – a verb that means to take (something) from someone, etc. without permission or unlawfully, esp. in a secret manner; it also means to move or convey stealthily.
- Won – a verb representing the past tense of ‘win’.
- One – a determiner that means single; lone; not two or more
- Court – a noun referring to an area of ground wholly or partly surrounded by walls or buildings. Among other meanings, it also refers to a tribunal having the power to adjudicate in civil, criminal, military, or ecclesiastical matters.
- Caught – a verb that denotes the past tense and past participle of ‘catch’.
- Nit – a noun referring to the egg of a louse, usually adhering to human hair.
- Knit – a verb that means to make (a garment, etc.) by looping and entwining (yarn, esp. wool) by hand by means of long eyeless needles.
Set 6 Examples
- Beat – a verb that means to strike with or as if with a series of violent blows; dash or pound repeatedly (against). The noun form means a stroke or blow or an assigned or habitual round or route, as of a policeman or sentry.
- Beet – a noun meaning any plant widely cultivated in such varieties as the sugar beet, mangel-wurzel, beetroot, and spinach beet.
- Red – a noun referring to any of a group of colours, such as that of a ripe tomato or fresh blood, that lies at one end of the visible spectrum, next to orange.
- Read – a verb that means the past tense and past participle of ‘read’.
- Hoard – a noun that means an accumulated store hidden away for future use. The verb form denotes to gather or accumulate (a hoard).
- Horde – a noun for a vast crowd; a throng; mob.
- Bail – a noun referring to a sum of money by which a person is bound to take responsibility for the appearance in court of another person or himself, forfeited if the person fails to appear. The verb means to release or obtain the release of (a person) from custody, security having been made.
- Bale – a noun meaning a large bundle, esp. of a raw or partially processed material, bound by ropes, wires, etc., for storage or transportation.
- Tail – a noun referring to the region of the vertebrate body that is posterior to or above the anus and contains an elongation of the vertebral column, forming a flexible movable appendage.
- Tale – a noun meaning a report, narrative, or story; a group of short stories connected by an overall narrative framework.
Set 7 Examples
- Taut – an adjective meaning tightly stretched; tense.
- Tort – a noun (in law) meaning a civil wrong or injury arising out of an act or failure to act, independently of any contract, for which an action for damages may be brought
- Weather – a noun that means the day-to-day meteorological conditions, esp. temperature, cloudiness, and rainfall, affecting a specific place.
- Whether – a conjunction used to introduce an indirect question or a clause after a verb expressing or implying doubt or choice in order to indicate two or more alternatives.
- Née – an adjective indicating the maiden name of a married woman.
- Neigh – a noun depicting the high-pitched cry of a horse; whinny. In the verb form, it means to make a neigh or a similar noise; to utter with a sound like a neigh.
- Nay – a noun that means denial, refusal or a negative reply or vote; one who votes no.
- Knot – a noun that refers to any of various fastenings formed by looping and tying a piece of rope, cord, etc., in upon itself, to another piece of rope, or to another object.
- Not – an adverb used to negate the sentence, phrase, or word that it modifies
- Bread – a noun meaning a food made from a dough of flour or meal mixed with water or milk, usually raised with yeast or baking powder and then baked.
- Bred – a verb denoting the past tense and past participle of ‘breed’.
Set 8 Examples
- Ware – a noun denoting articles of the same kind or material e. g. glassware, silverware.
- Wear – a verb that means to carry or have (a garment, etc.) on one’s person as clothing, ornament, etc.; to carry or have on one’s person habitually.
- Waist – a noun, especially an anatomy, meaning the constricted part of the trunk between the ribs and hips.
- Waste – a verb which means to use, consume, or expend thoughtlessly, carelessly, or to no avail; to fail to take advantage of.
- Bate – a verb that is another word for ‘abate’.
- Bait – a noun meaning something edible, such as soft bread paste, worms, pieces of meat, etc., fixed to a hook or in a trap to attract fish or animals; an enticement; temptation. The verb form means to put a piece of food on or in (a hook or trap) to entice; tempt.
- Lorn – an adjective used in the poetic sense which means forsaken or wretched.
- Lawn – a noun that means a flat and usually level area of mown and cultivated grass.
- Lord – a noun that refers to a person who has power or authority over others, such as a monarch or master.
- Laud – a verb that means to praise or glorify; a noun version meaning praise or glorification.
Set 9 Examples
- Son – a noun that refers to a male offspring; a boy or man in relation to his parents.
- Sun – a noun referent of the star that is the source of heat and light for the planets in the solar system with a gaseous body having a highly compressed core, in which energy is generated by thermonuclear reactions.
- Sum – a noun that means the result of the addition of numbers, quantities, objects, etc.
- Some – a determiner that means (a) certain unknown or unspecified.
- Sell – a verb that means to dispose of or transfer or be disposed of or transferred to a purchaser in exchange for money or other consideration; put or be on sale.
- Cell – a noun meaning a small simple room, as in a prison, convent, monastery, or asylum; cubicle.
- Ale – a noun that refers to a beer fermented in an open vessel using yeasts that rise to the top of the brew.
- Ail – a verb that means to trouble; afflict
- Sail – a noun meaning an area of fabric, with fittings for holding it in any suitable position to catch the wind, used for propelling certain kinds of vessels, esp. over water. In the verb form, it means to travel in a boat or ship.
- Sale – a noun meaning the exchange of goods, property, or services for an agreed sum of money or credit.
Set 10 Examples
- Phishing – This is a noun in computing that means the malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of masquerading as a trustworthy entity and acquiring sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. It also means the act of circumventing security with an alias.
- Fishing – a noun that refers to the occupation of catching fish.
- Phish – a verb that means to engage in phishing (see above).
- Fish – in its noun form, it means any of a large group of cold-blooded aquatic vertebrates having jaws, gills, and usually fins and a skin covered in scales while in its verbal form, it means to attempt to catch fish, as with a line and hook or with nets, traps, etc.
- Phisher – a noun referring to a person who engages in phishing
- Fisher – a noun which refers to a person who fishes; fisherman
- Sashay – a verb which means to move, walk, or glide along casually.
- Sachet – a noun meaning small sealed envelope, usually made of plastic or paper, for containing sugar, salt, shampoo, etc.
- Haul – a verb that means to drag or draw (something) with effort or to transport, as in a lorry.
- Hall – a noun denoting a room serving as an entry area within a house or building or a building for public meetings.
The definitions and descriptions of these homophonous words are taken from the Collins Internet-Linked Dictionary (2004) by HarperCollins Publishers.