Have you heard the joke about the English teacher consoling his student?
The student cried, "I'll never learn all of these homophones!"
Comforting the student, the teacher replied, "Their, they're."
Homophones are pairs or groups of words which are pronounced the same, but differ in meaning, origin or spelling. For example, there, their and they're.
It's important to learn the correct spelling and meaning for each of the words in the group because they can't be distinguished by sound alone. Here are some common homophones with example sentences to give each word context.
1. Bear / Bare
Have you ever asked someone to wait for a moment using the phrase 'bear with me'. This comes from the verb 'to bear' meaning to endure a difficult situation.
The adjective bare describes something which isn't covered.
- Please bear with me while I check that information for you.
- Let's buy some paintings. These walls look a little bare.
2. Wear / Where
We wear clothes, jewellery and shoes. This verb sounds identical to the word where, which is used to form a question.
- When I was a teenager, I used to wear the most outrageous clothes.
- Excuse me, could you tell me where the bus station is?
3. Break / Brake
Both of the words in this pair of homophones are verbs, but they have very different meanings.
If you break something, it means it no longer works, or it is in pieces. Its noun form is also break.
If you are driving your car and an animal runs into the road, you need to brake so that you don't hit it. Again, the noun form of this word is also brake.
- I need a break from studying, but I don't want to break my concentration.
- To make an emergency stop, apply the foot brake firmly. Keep both hands on the steering wheel as you brake.
4. Piece / Peace
The noun peace describes the absence of conflict. A piece of something is a part of a larger whole. A piece can also be a written, musical or artistic work.
- Bill Evans wrote many pieces of music in his life including "Laurie" and "Peace Piece".
- "Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding." Albert Einstein
5. To / Too / Two
To is one of the most common words in the English language. It can come before a noun as a preposition, or be part of the infinitive of a verb.
Too is used as a synonym for also. It is also used to show that a verb or adjective is excessive.
Two is the number following one.
- Unfortunately, I wasn't too surprised to read that Donald Trump's inauguration poster contained a glaring typo.
- I take two spoonfuls of sugar in my coffee.
Exercise: Now it's your turn. Fill in the gaps in the sentences below with the correct homophones from above.
- If you __________ the law, you can expect __________ be arrested.
- That __________ of cake looks delicious. __________ did you buy it?
- Can you tell me __________ I can find the John Lennon __________ and Harmony Monument?
- If you want to __________ the world record for most smarties eaten in one minute, you would need __________ eat 66 smarties.
Post your answers in the comments section below or email us at Intrepid English.
These are just a few common homophones. Can you think of any more? If you enjoyed this page, take a look at the Commonly Confused English Words series. If you have any questions, or you would like to request a topic for a future blog, you can contact us here or email us at Intrepid English.
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Image credits: Adapted from photography for DTS by Seth Dunlap https://vimeo.com/sethdunlap, Patrick Chin @iampatrickchin and Calen & Kristy Rhome https://www.whiteinrevery.com.
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