A homophone is a word that is pronounced in the same way as another word, but has a different meaning and may be spelt differently. They can cause writers, and in turn their readers, confusion.
One common example of this is ‘there’, ‘their’ and they’re’. Since I’ve been editing I’ve been surprised by how many people get this wrong. It isn’t always that a writer doesn’t know the difference, but often the wrong word has been used accidently and just hasn’t been picked up. But if you use the wrong version in your published book, readers will think you don’t know what you’re talking about (there’s another one – your and you’re) and will lose their trust in you and your book.
So, just in case:
- there – refers to a place or is used with the verb to be: ‘There is a lion in the zoo; look, it’s over there.’
- their – shows possession. ‘It is their lion.’
- they’re – the contraction of ‘they are’. ‘They are looking at their lion.’
Other homophones I’ve come across are:
- waive and wave
- for, four and fore
- to, too and two
- discreet and discrete
- wrings and ring (‘she was ringing her hands’ should be ‘she was wringing her hands’)
- fazes and phases
Of course, the words may be spelt the same but have a different meaning (like the example in the cartoon above).
One of the best ways to make sure you’re using the right word is to have someone else read over your work, whether that’s a beta reader, a fellow writer or an editor. Sometimes we’re so close to our work that we don’t notice these relatively simple errors. A fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference.
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