Homophones: What they are and How to Identify Them, Part I by @GrammarGEditing

Homophones: What they are and How to Identify Them, Part I

By Wendy C Garfinkle (Grammar Goddess Editing)


Many words in the English language look or sound alike but have very different meanings. Examples include aisle and isle, aloud and allowed. It’s easy to confuse them, and things like spellcheck won’t catch the error; while it will flag the word when it’s misspelled, it rarely catches the misuse of a correctly spelled word. Isn’t English grand?!

These words are members of the homophone family.

“Homophone” is taken from the Greek words “homo,” meaning “same,” and “phone,” meaning “voice.” Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings. Often, they’ll also have different spellings, but not necessarily.

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are several words used to describe different types of homophone:

·       Homograph – words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings

·       Homonym – words that have the same spelling but different meanings

·       Heterograph – words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings

·       Heteronym – words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meanings

Confused yet? Well, I’m here to help you gain some clarity.

In this post, I’ll address some commonly confused heterographic homophones (aka homophonic heterographs), and hopefully, by the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what makes homophones heterographic, as well as recognize how to keep from confusing them.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

aisle vs isle

·       aisle is a passage or walkway between or along rows of seats in a theatre, classroom, or the like – The airplane aisle was too narrow for the drink cart.

·       isle is a small island – The Isle of Man sits in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.

aloud vs allowed

·       aloud means vocally, as opposed to mentally – Please don’t speak your thoughts aloud.

·       allowed means permitted – She wasn’t allowed out of the house after midnight.

bated vs baited

·       bated means to moderate or restrain, to lessen or diminish – We waited to with bated breath for his reaction to the insult

·       baited means lured or enticed; prepared (a hook or trap) with bait; teased – She baited the hook with a fat, juicy worm and then cast the reel.

berth vs birth

·       berth is a shelf-like sleeping space, as on a ship, train, etc. – The berth was a bit cramped for her long legs.

·       birth is any coming into existence; act or instance of being born – Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth.

canvas vs canvass

·       canvas is a closely woven, heavy cloth of cotton, hemp or linen used for tents, sails, etc. – She carried her books in a canvas backpack.

·       canvass is to seek votes; to examine; investigate by inquiry – The officers canvass the neighborhood seeking witnesses.

cereal vs serial

·       cereal of or relating to grain or the plants producing it; edible preparation of grain – My favorite cereal is Frosted Cheerios.

·       serial is anything published, broadcast, etc., in short installments at regular intervals; effecting or producing a series of similar actions – The police think a serial burglar is responsible for the five residential burglaries last week.

dual vs duel

·       dual means consisting of two parts or elements, or having two parts – She held dual citizenship in Ireland and the U.S.

·       duel a combat between two people; a conflict between antagonistic persons, ideas or forces – The last presidential election was an historic duel of words.

Homophones: What they are and How to Identify Them, Part I by Homophones: What they are and How to Identify Them, Part I by @GrammarGEditing via BadRedheadMedia.com, @badredheadmedia

foreword vs forward

·       foreword refers to prefatory comments, as for a book, especially when written by someone other than the author – Her agent penned an impressive foreword for the author’s latest novel.

·       forward means situated in advance; strongly inclined; notably advanced or developed, precocious – My mother always told me my forward personality would get me in trouble someday.

hoard vs horde

·       hoard is a supply or fund stored up and often hidden away – The villagers know to stay away from that cave; it’s where the dragon has his hoard.

·       horde is a people or tribe of nomadic life; a large unorganized group of individuals – The hordes of reporters shouting questions during the press conference made her head pound.

pedal vs peddle

·       pedal is a lever pressed by the foot in the playing of a musical instrument, or in activating a mechanism – Which pedal on the piano do you press to sustain the note?

·       peddle means to travel about with wares for sale; to be busy with trifles – The local Renaissance Festival is filled with peddlers from all over the country.

sight vs site

·       sight refers to something that is seen; a thing regarded as worth seeing; the process, power or function of seeing – The circus clowns were a sight to behold!

·       site is a space of ground occupied or to be occupied by a building; one or more Internet addresses; website – Her bookstore is an online site, rather than a brick and mortar location.

stationary vs stationery

·       stationary means fixed in a station, course or mode; unchanging in condition – It is dangerous to attempt entry of an elevator that is not stationary.

·       stationery is materials for writing or typing – The editor needed to choose a logo for her stationery.

wreath vs wreathe

·       wreath is something intertwined or arranged in a circular shape, such as an arrangement of flowers – The ancient Romans awarded laurel wreaths to winners of athletic competitions.

·       wreathe means to twist or contort so as to show folds or creases; to cause to coil about something – They wreathed hollies and berries together to decorate the staircase.

yoke vs yolk

·       yoke is a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals are joined at the necks for working together; an airplane control operating the elevators and ailerons – He yoked the oxen and plowed the field.

·       yolk is the yellow part in the center of an egg – The recipe called for only the egg yolk. What shall we do with the egg white?


I hope this short list has helped you become more familiar with some of the different heterographic homophones, and also given you some idea of how easy it is to confuse these words. Sometimes – even for editors – the simplest thing to do is consult a dictionary, or keep an alphabetical list of these words. It’s also good for your writing – and to save time – if you can memorize them.

Are there any heterographic homophones that trip you up?

Wendy is an over-educated editor and writer who holds multiple degrees from several universities (that’s what happens when you want to do everything!), including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.
Her debut novel, SERPENT ON A CROSS, originally published October 30, 2012, by Northampton House Press as an ebook, was re-released by Booktrope, in August 2014. She’s authored numerous poems and is currently juggling several Shiny Things (AKA, Works in Progress). Her work has appeared in the OCH Literary Society and Feminine Collective, as well as numerous guest posts on colleagues’ blogs.
Wendy is an avid reader and traveler, who loves caffeine, storms and dark chocolate. She works in law enforcement and lives in South Florida with her teenage son.
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  1. Robin Peacock on February 10, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    bated means to moderate or restrain, to lessen or diminish – We waited to with bated breath for his reaction to the insult??? We waited to with??? This is simply unintelligible.

    · baited means lured or enticed; prepared (a hook or trap) with bait; teased – She baited the hook with a fat, juicy worm and then cast the reel???? Cast the reel? The reel holds the line so stays on the rod near the handle.

    Be more specific and accurate if you want people to listen.

    • Rachel Thompson on February 11, 2017 at 8:49 am

      Thank you for so kindly pointing out this example, Robin. I’ve passed your comments on to my guest, Wendy.

      • Wendy Garfinkle on March 2, 2017 at 12:55 pm


        Congratulations on finding the “hidden” errors in my post! I like to stick a couple in from time to time to see if readers catch them and point them out – and you did! 🙂

        What can I say – I think writing about writing and editing should be fun – and “hiding” mistakes is a good teaching tool. 🙂

        Thank you for reading and commenting!


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