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Top 20 Most Commonly Confused Homophones

Here's a language refresher on homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently.
on March 31, 2014
 

Our Raise a Reader blog has been doing some grammar celebrating this month, and we're seriously having a blast. 

 

We are hearing that in order to raise strong readers and writers, parents could really benefit from some quick language refreshers themselves. And we totally get it. Some of the nuances of the English language are enough to make a person go batty. 

 

So we thought we'd cover the top 20 most commonly confused homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently, and there are some that get me every time. 

 

Please note that the following scenarios are the most commonly used cases; as is quite common in our language, there are always exceptions!

 

1. affect/effect 

Use affect to indicate influence: The medicine did not affect her the way the doctor had hoped. 

Use effect as a noun: The new medicine had negative side effects. (Note: effect can sometimes be used as a verb meaning to cause/achieve or to bring about – as in "The magician effected his escape with a false door" – but this is mostly a technical term and not used very often.)

 

2. than/then

Use than for comparisons: John is much taller than his brother. 

Use then to indicate passage of time, or when: We went to the park in the morning, and then we left to pick up lunch.

 

3. which/witch

Use which as a pronoun when referring to things or animals:  Cora wore her favorite pink shoes, which she received as a birthday gift.

Use witch to mean a scary or nasty person: The Halloween witch decorations must finally come down off of the wall!

 

4. here/hear

Use here as an adverb to indicate location:  Please come back here and put your shoes away! 

Use hear as a verb to indicate listening:  Can you hear the birds' beautiful singing outside?

 

5. are/our

Are is a verb in present tense, a form of the verb "to be."

We are staying at the hotel closest to the stadium. 

They are my cousins.

 

Our is an adjective, the plural possessive form of we.

They will bring our keys to the hotel lobby. 

The pleasure is all ours.

(Note: I covered this example in my post 7 (More!) Grammar Mistakes You Don't Want to Make. Read more here.)

 

6. buy/by

Use buy when purchasing an item: I do need to buy new shoes for the kids. 

Use by as a preposition to indicate location: Please put the sandwiches by the door so we don't forget them!  

 

7. accept/except

Use accept as a verb to mean receive: The organization will accept donations through the first of the month. 

Use except as a preposition to mean exclude:  You may donate all items except car seats and cribs. 

 

8. weather/whether

Use weather when referring to the state of the atmosphere: The constantly changing springtime weather is driving us crazy.

Use whether as a conjunction to introduce choices: Please tell us whether you would prefer steak or salmon for dinner. 

 

9. there/their/they're

there

There can act as different parts of speech, depending on how it is used in a sentence. Most commonly, it is used as a pronoun or adverb.

There will be a lot to eat at the party tonight.  (pronoun)

Put the book over there.  (adverb)

 

Their is a pronoun.

The students put their coats in the closet. 

 

they're is the contraction for they are
They're going to have practice immediately after school today.

(Note: I covered this example in my post 7 Grammar Mistakes You Don't Want to Make. Read more here.)

 

 

10. to/too/two

To can be a preposition.

We're going to the park. 

 

To can indicate an infinitive when it precedes a verb.

We want to help in any way we can. 

 

Too is an adverb that can mean excessively when it precedes an adjective or adverb.

I ate too much ice cream for dessert. 

 

Too is a synonym for also.

I ate too much ice cream for dessert, too

 

Two is a number.  

Marcy ate two pieces of pie.

I have two books I'd like to read.

 

11. you're/ your 

You're is a contraction for you are.

You're going to absolutely love this new recipe. 

 

Your is a pronoun.

Please bring your books to class with you tomorrow.

 

12. bear/ bare

Use bear when referring to the large mammal or to indicate the act of holding or supporting: How did that brown bear open the security gate at the campsite? |  The wagon can hardly bear the weight of the load. 

Use bare as an adjective indicating lack of clothing or adornment:  His bare neck burned in the direct sunlight.

 

13. one/won

Use one when referring to a single unit or thing:  I have one more muffin left before the box is empty.

Use won as the past tense form of the verb "to win": Shelly's team won the tournament and celebrated with ice-cream sundaes!

 

14. brake/break

Use brake as a verb meaning to stop or as a noun when referring to a device used to stop or slow motion:  The bike's brake failed, which is why he toppled town the hill. 

Use break to indicate smashing or shattering or to take a recess:  My back will break if we put one more thing in this backpack.  OR Use break as a noun to indicate a rest or pause: We took a water break after our first set of drills because it was so hot outside. 

 

15. complement/compliment

Use complement when referring to something that enhances or completes: The cranberry sauce is a perfect complement to the turkey dinner. 

Use compliment as an expression of praise: I was pleased to have received so many compliments on my new dress and shoes today. 

 

16. aloud/allowed

Use aloud when referring to something said out loud:  Reading aloud –and doing it well–is a skill that requires much practice. 

Use allowed when referring to something permitted:  Dogs are not allowed to be on school property between 2:45-4pm.

 

17.  lie/lay

Use lie to indicate the act of reclining:  I am tired just watching the dog lie in the warm sunlight.

Use lay to indicate the placement of something:  Please lay the paper on the table.   

 

Lay is a transitive verb, which means it always needs an object! Something is always being put down; lie, on the other hand, will never have an object because it is an intransitive verb.

 

Hint: 

to lie: lie(s), lay, lain, lying

to lay: lay(s), laid, laid, laying

 

18. it's/its

It's is the contraction for it is.

It's raining today, so the baseball game will be cancelled.

 

Its is the possessive form ("possessive" means belongs to) of it.

The cat is licking its paws.

 

19. capital/capitol

Use capital when referring to a city, a wealth or resources, or an uppercase letter: The capital of Maryland is the gorgeous city of Annapolis.  

Use capitol when referring to a building where lawmakers meet: The capitol has undergone extensive renovations this year. 

 

20. principle/principal

Use principle as a noun meaning a basic truth or law: Many important life principles are learned in kindergarten.

Use principal as a noun meaning the head of a school or organization, or a sum of money: The principal is a well-respected member of the community because of the hard work and effort she puts forth in her position.

 

 

What homophones confuse you the most? Should we add any to our list? Let us know!

 

Share your thoughts on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, or find Amy on Twitter, @teachmama, and let's continue the conversation!

 

 

Read all posts by Amy Mascott.

 

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