Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Knowledge Tuesdays: Phobic about Homophones

Phobic about Homophones

Click on the picture above to find this book on Amazon.

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings. I think homophones can be a writer's bane, if the writer isn't careful. Here is a list online that lists many common homophones, although I'll include a few that aren't on the list.

As a freelance editor/proofreader, I come across homophones used incorrectly. As a writer, I know I have used some incorrectly myself. Sometimes I even have to look it up when I write or edit. I'll mention a few.

Bear - Furry animal
Bear - See this dictionary entry here since there are so many different ways of using "bear"
Bare - Naked, not clothed
The furry animal "bear" is probably the easiest. I must admit the others can get hairy. 

Okay, I know this isn't a real homophone technically, but I had a world of trouble with it in Once Upon a December Nightmare and still do.
Farther – more, increase in distance
Further – more, increase
In order to tell the difference, I always try to say it "more + distance." If it works with that combination, then it is "farther." If not, it's "further." If I'm still confused, I'll pick a different word.

Clinch – secure or fix
Clench – to close tightly, tighten something, like a fist
I like to think of "clinch" as to win, you secure a victory.
Clench is what you do to hands, teeth, etc.

I don't see "rain" being used as interchangeably as "reign" and "rein."
Rain – precipitation
Rein – a strap fastened to an animal, a restraining influence, controlling or guiding power, or opportunity for unhampered activity
Reign – a royal authority, the dominion, sway, or influence of one resembling a monarch, the time during which one rules
The best way I can think of this one is to think of royalty. If you are talking about royalty, then it is "reign." If you are talking about horses or controlling or restraining emotions, yourself, etc., then it is "rein."

This one was actually talked about on the radio one day when I was coming to work. The DJs mentions that they wanted to correct their friends' emails, especially when they exchanged "threw" for "through."
Threw – Past tense of the verb "to throw," propel in the air
Through – movement from one side to another
A ball you threw can go through the window. I guess the best way to think about it is to think whether or not you are doing the action or not. If you throw something, then you (i.e character) did it.

It's/Its or Your/You're or There/Their/They're
Particularly with the difference between "its" and "it's" or "your" and "you're" or "there," "their" and "they're," you have to think the word out. It is (or it's) really the only way to do it. If you can say "It is" or "You are" or "They are," then you have "It's," "You're" and "They're." If you have possessives, then you want "its" food; "your" homework; "their" jobs. And, if it is "there," it's just there. *winks*

As I mentioned, there are many, many more homophones out there. The key is to know which ones you have problems with and keep them in mind when you write. That's what I do, and it does help. Or you can cheat like I do and use a different word here and there. I won't tell. 

Do you have any homophones that give you trouble? Do you have any hints on how to avoid the homophone trap?


Misha Gerrick said...

I actually posted about this very early along in my blog.

My problem is that I write down words that I hear in my head.

If I write fast enough, I sometimes start to write phonetically for a reason I cannot explain.

That's when homophones start to become a bitch.


Aubrie said...

You always catch mine homophones! I'm so embarrassed when you do because they make the sentence sound so silly!

Great post and very helpful! (although I bet you'll still see them in my writing!)

L.A. Colvin said...

Love this post. I'll have to pull it back up during my revision. I just write and put down whatever comes first. I'm sure I have plenty along with my normal typos.

Nicole Zoltack said...

It's so easy to type the wrong word and then miss over it when editing. Ugh.

Cherie Reich said...

Misha - I'll have to find a moment to go back and see what you said. It always helps to go over these things.

Aubrie - You are doing much better. Each time I correct less and less, and I know one day you'll give me nothing to correct when it comes to homophones. And, you always help me find other words to use and ways to not be so awkward in my sentences. Finding the grammar things is the least I can do.

L.A. - I'll have to keep that link I put in this post in mind. It's great.

Nicole - It is so easy to do that. What's worse is if you don't know which one it should be. I've changed words because I wasn't 100% certain.

Jennifer Hillier said...

I always get stuck on farther/further and rein/reign. In first drafts, I almost always use the wrong word... sad, I know!

p.s. Love your header! I'm such a fan of Chelsea Cain!