I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. *cough*

A homophone is one of two or more words which are pronounced the same but are different in meaning, derivation or spelling.

Contrast: homonym
Homophones are two or more words that sound the same (or approximately the same) but differ in spelling (or other technicalities like their meanings and where they're derived from). Some grammar books will refer to these as homonyms, but the difference is that homonyms actually look the same on the paper, they just mean different things, like read (to read, present tense) and read (have/has read, past tense) or place (a location) and place (an action, to put). Here I will concentrate on homophone confusion and list many frequently confused sets.

The six most often confused:

  • its: possessive form of it
  • it's: contraction of it is

  • their: possessive form of they
  • they're: contraction of they are
  • there: in that place

  • to: toward
  • too: also, very
  • two: the number after one

  • whose: possessive form of who
  • who's: contraction of who is

  • your: possessive form of you
  • you're: contraction of you are

    Some others that get honorable mentions:

  • accept: to receive
  • except: to leave out

  • advice: a recommendation
  • advise: to recommend

  • affect: a verb, to influence; or a noun, an emotion
  • effect: a verb, to make happen; or a noun, a result

  • all ready: prepared
  • already: by this time

  • allude: to refer
  • elude: to avoid

  • allusion: indirect reference
  • illusion: false idea or appearance

  • ascent: movement up
  • assent: agreement

  • bare: naked, uncovered
  • bear: a verb, to carry, endure; or a noun, an animal

  • board: piece of lumber
  • bored: uninterested

  • brake: to stop
  • break: to smash

  • capital: seat of government, or uppercase letter
  • capitol: government building

  • complement: to make complete
  • compliment: to praise

  • conscience: feeling of right and wrong
  • conscious: aware

  • council: an assembly
  • counsel: to advise

  • desert: a noun, a dry sandy terrain; or a verb, to abandon
  • dessert: last part of a meal

  • elicit: to draw out
  • illicit: illegal

  • eminent: distinguished
  • immanent: inherent
  • imminent: impending

  • fair: just, or light-complexioned, or a festive atmosphere
  • fare: a charge for transportation

  • gorilla: an ape
  • guerilla: a soldier

  • hare: an animal
  • hair: thin fur on the head or body

  • hear: to perceive by ear
  • here: in this place

  • heard: past tense of hear
  • herd: a noun, group of animals; or a verb, to group the animals

  • hole: an opening
  • whole: entire

  • lead: a noun, a metal; or a verb, to go before
  • led: past tense of lead

  • loose: not tight
  • lose: fail to win, or misplace

  • passed: past tense of pass
  • past: after, beyond

  • patience: toleration of time-consuming or unpleasant circumstances
  • patients: persons under medical care

  • peace: absence of war
  • piece: a part of something

  • peak: a summit, or high point
  • pique: to arouse or provoke

  • presence: attendance
  • presents: gifts

  • principal: school administrator
  • principle: a basic truth or law

  • scene: setting, part of a play
  • seen: past tense of see

  • stationary: standing still
  • stationery: writing paper

  • threw: past tense of throw
  • through: finished, or by means of

  • waist: part of the body
  • waste: to squander

  • weak: feeble, not strong
  • week: seven-day period

  • weather: climatic conditions
  • whether: which of two

  • which: what or that
  • witch: magick user or storybook sorcerer

    This definitely isn't a complete list but you can feel free to /msg me with more you'd like to add.

    This was excerpted and expanded from my version of The Scribner Handbook for Writers, ©1995 by DiYanni and Hoy.

  • Lying half-awake in bed, gradually growing aware of the sensation of the cat chewing on my toes, a miasmic thought bubbles deep and meaningfully up out of the murky bog that recent events here have made of my brain and, ultimately, the will'o'the wisp stinks up the database with its sulfur and methane:
      Is it possible to copyright permut(at)ed representations of phonemes (which is to say, sounds and syllables expressed equivalently in perhaps unconventional ways)?
    I begin with a seemingly non sequitur flash out of left field, of the hacks who wrung the last few drops out of Napster by ROT-13ing their filenames -- for while lawyers were only too happy to serve subpoenas to anyone caught offering Metallica - Master of Puppets it would be quite some time until their nets were cast wide enough to ensnare Zrgnyyvpn - Znfgre bs Chccrgf, attaining a species of security through obscurity, for a while, for the illegal activities perpetrated under the letterswitching auspices.

    Then I think back, remembering as a child deriving puerile delight from the circumvention of hardware censorship of obscenity on Texas Instruments Speak-and-Spell devices, emulated through software in early text-to-speech toys such as Dr. SBAITSO, who would turn four-letter words into parity errors. My grade 4 francais teacher was reluctant to discuss seals with her class but these poor machines hadn't been equipped to expect anything so deviously intent on perversity, and through kreativ mizpelling nd kal-queue-latid zownd aniloggs we soon had them pealing out a blue streak that would turn our parents' faces white at the vision of the future we were affording them.

    So now I contemplate decades later and wiser a re-application of this phonetic technique for different, but equally scurrilous ends. I ponder the opening lines of Jabberwocky (not because it, well in the public domain, needs to be obfuscated for any copyright purposes, but because its (contextlessly) nonsensical meaning is not significantly altered by the change) where

      `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
    reorganizes itself into
      Tuwz bryl igund this lith it ofs / didug iron digim blinth uhwaybe.
    So perhaps it doesn't trip off the tongue quite so lightly... but it occurs to me that this device has already been used to exciting ends by all sorts of other literary figures; Canadian visionary bpNichol used a Cobralingus-style process to attain similar results in number 13 of his 1979 systems series Translating Translating Apollonaire, where an excerpt of TTA 4 (original version) starts out as
      Icarus winging up
      Simon the Magician from Judea high in a tree
      everyone reaching for the sun
    and works out through TTA 13 (sound translation) into:
      hick or ass   wan king cup,
      Samantha my chess yen   front chew deo   hyena tory,
      heavy Juan   Gris chin guffaw earth son
    So it's not quite spot-on; as a poet, he employed his license (hey, this thing's expired!) to overlook minor whimsical deviations as one might in a round of Eat Poop You Cat. Us, we're rigorous and humorless. If we wanted to, we could convert readable text to speakable text impeccably, perhaps even going so far as to indicate in actual phonetic notation how to pronounce the words in the diction and accent the original author might well have employed personally. Derivative, certainly - but also new works, albeit ones representing a sort of codification of old information. I expect we would be free to use them but not to sell them without sending royalties back.

    "Obey be bay bee, haw us ass up post two note / hat sum thin was in trite ear?" not only conveys (more-or-less) the sound of the opening lines of Britney Spears' breakout pop hit Baby One More Time, but to be fair also goes a long way towards effectively communicating the nuanced story and unresolved philosophical issues contained in the text of the song's lyrics, common to number one pop chart-toppers -- diplomatically put, it says as little as the original lyrics did without maintaining the illusion that further contemplation might reveal deeper meanings from the pointed gibberish.

    (One might suggest that the sung syllables there are used less to convey word-meaning information and more to convey voice-as-a-musical-instrument information of tone and timbre... would that then protect lyricists from these adaptations under the same laws that govern new arrangements of existing musical compositions? This is after all only an alternate system of notation designed to produce a near-to-identical output. Is the output not what the letter of the law applies to? My MP3s, of course, are only long collections of ones and zeroes that TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY happen to sound like forgotten items from the cancelled back catalogue of record companies when fed through WinAmp. What are the chances? And am I not allowed to possess the zeros and ones in that particular configuration, or do they become forbidden only once they meet the mp3-playing software? But this is a different ball of wax.)

    Just as the Pinyin (also apparently a phonetic alphabet) and other alternate-alphabet sets here that don't render as anything comprehensible without Unicode enabled (but are tolerated nonetheless), so too these entries could appear garbled gibberish until activated by the appropriate output device: being read out loud. The device could be activated by header information: The following write-up is designed to be read out loud. You may find it makes little sense visually scanned. But despite this entirely reasonable proposal for maintaining access to the great texts of our times here in an audible form, I expect I will be advised to go pitch my plan to the people at homophonicpiracy2.com

    (Be glad I indulged this half-woken notion rather than the prior... still doing research on that one 8) (munch, smack).
    If you really want to make me eat my words (and, well, we shall see what happens when my foot is in my mouth), convert this w/u into a phonetic script and trick me into remarking that it's incomprehensible 8)

    Hom"o*phone (?), n. [Cf. F. homophone. See Homophonous.]

    1.

    A letter or character which expresses a like sound with another.

    Gliddon.

    2.

    A word having the same sound as another, but differing from it in meaning and usually in spelling; as, all and awl; bare and bear; rite, write, right, and wright.

     

    © Webster 1913.

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