One of the most frequent errors that I find when proofreading or checking transcriptions is the misuse of homonyms, or strictly speaking homophones. Homonyms are actually words with different meanings that are spelt and pronounced identically, so in fact they won’t be visible as errors in writing or transcription. Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelt differently, and that’s what keeps catching people out.
Rather than trying to give definitions I have given examples of a number of commonly muddled homophones, used appropriately in sentences, so that differences will hopefully become clear. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, and neither does it provide definitions of the homonyms/homophones. These are just a few examples that might allay confusion and hopefully won’t increase it! The homonyms are shown in [square brackets].
Examples of commonly muddled homophones
[There] are two main characters in this show. [Their] names are Bill and Ben. [They’re] going to be jumping out of flowerpots soon.
I have [to] publish articles on this site. I have [two] articles published on this site. I have articles on other sites [too].
I can’t [hear] you. Why don’t you come over [here].
I watched a [current] affairs programme last night while eating some [currants]. The electricity for the television on which I watched the programme was provided via an alternating [current].
The brown [bear] awoke from his hibernation. He had to go out and forage because the cupboard was [bare].
The smoke could not escape up the chimney because the [flue] was blocked. The fug in the room made me feel ill, as though I had [flu].
A chicken is a [fowl]. When chicken meat goes off it is [foul].
It [seems] as though the mending is never ending. I have to mend the [seams] in three shirts.
I will [pare] the skin from that apple. Two apples would make a [pair]. Would you prefer an apple or a [pear]?
Be carefully when you [tow] that truck away. You might drive your car over someone’s [toe].
I want to lose [weight] but I don’t think I’ll start my diet yet. I’ll [wait] until after Christmas.
Look at her tiny [waist]. If she’s not carefully she’ll [waste] away.
[Who’s] that girl? Is she the one [whose] brother is going out with Sam?
The old lady was quite [staid]. She sometimes went out but usually [stayed] at home.
What is the best [route] to the allotment? I want to go there and [root] out some weeds.
The lady of the [manor] had a rather irritating [manner].
These are really just a handful of homophones, but they’re the ones I see muddled most often in my work.