The Words Sound Write | What's the Madder?

Homonyms or homophones are words which sound the same (or similar), but have different meanings, and often different spellings.

These are often confusing to people who learn English as a second language. They are also a problem for native-born English speakers.

For example, the poem at the right sounds correct when read allowed . . . er . . . I mean aloud, but incorrect homonyms have been substituted. throughout.

I have used the example as an elementary level grammar lesson, by reading it, and displaying the written version for students to copy and correct.

There are 19 or 20 misused words in a short poem, even though the words sound right.

(A pome, by the way, is a kind of fruit that has a core with seeds like an apple or pear.)

Flour and Be Pome

"Bee quite," said the flour.

"I will knot," said the be.

"Then buzz off four an our,

"and sea the old pair tree."

"Weight a minute, flour,

"just let me steel a kiss."

"Know, weigh," said the blossom,

"Pleas, leaf me out of this."

Illustration and "pome" by Rochelle Frank
Illustration and "pome" by Rochelle Frank

Know the difference between:

peace piece

hear here

blue blew

wail whale

weight wait

tale tail

chord cord

sell cell

sore soar

tea tee

grown groan

tide tied

pleas please

build billed

layer lair

sum some

past passed

plum plumb

loose lose

idle idol

elicit illicit

personal personnel

stationary stationery

four fore for

desert dessert

capitol capital

principle principal

The use and misuse of certain words can cause a mental jolt when you are reading.

I recently read about a young man who joined the Marine "Corpse", a person who attended "Cavalry" Church, a person who advocated "human" execution for sick animals, and a legal matter with a "statue" of limitations.

Thankfully, they were not all in the same article.

The word "close" can sound like clothes if you don't get the "th" sound in there, and way too many people --who aren't even Tarzan-- think they are wearing cloths instead of clothes. If you ARE wearing a loincloth and you are close to the door, close it.

A Nightmare and a Knight Mare

A nightmare is a disturbing dream-- presumably occurring at night. A knight mare is a female horse belonging to a knight, though any genuine self-respecting knight would surely ride a stallion.

Sometimes homophones and near homophones come in threes or fours

pair pear pare: "Please pare a pair of pears."

road rode rowed: "We rode the boat which was rowed down the flooded road."

you're you're yore ur: " You're unlikely to find people who were texting the word 'ur' on your cell phone, in days of yore.

We whee Wii wee: "The three wee pigs went wee wee wee, all the way home to play with their Wii. Wheee!"

bear bare beer: " It is unwise to hunt bear while bare and drinking beer." (Ok, so beer doesn't quite work, but if you are hunting bears while naked, it probably involves beer.)

On the Net

One of the most misused words on the internet seems to be "sight" when the word "site" should be used. A site like an internet web page is a place, a location.

Of course you can also "cite" a reference or even cite an entire site. Sight is a sense of vision or something seen with the eyes. One reason that it is confusing is that sites can be seen and so can sights.

If you are referring to a location that can be found on the internet-- don't refer people to your sight, please use "site", and please cite it correctly.

It is possible to misuse homophones several different ways in one short sentence , as in: "They're stuff is over their. "

When people are talking like this, no one notices, but if you are going to write, try to be right.

Congradulations and Congratulations!!

I suppose the confusion comes here because it is entirely appropriate to congratulate people on their GRADuation.

The problem comes because these are NOT even near homophones. ConGRADulations is NOT even a REAL WORD. (Excuse the shouting.) The real problem here is sloppy pronunciation. I see and hear this one way too much.

The Latin derivation of "congratulation" is from con = with and gratulari = to show joy, from gratus = pleasing. Please stop "congradulating" people. There is no such thing. Spell check should take care of this easily.

By the way, should that be Resume , resumé , or résumé?

Which brings up the subject of words that are spelled alike and sound different and have different meanings

Résumé is a noun meaning a summary, pronounced "ray-zoo-may" or maybe even "reh-zuuum-may"

Resume is a verb indicating continuience of a previous action pronounced "ree-zoom".

In the US the unaccented form is often used as the noun that means resumé ("ray-zoo-may") as a convieniece to typists

Resumé is a mutilated spelling of a French word which has one of it's accent marks amputated, but it is the one I grew up with, and my personal preference.

People have been been debating this point in detail for years.

Know the Difference

If you don't, look them up.

Some words are approximate homonyms. Correct pronunciation helps in many cases, but not always. Which examples are correct?

1. dying dyeing: I'm dyeing to dye my hair.

2. forth fourth : I was forth in line, but when the whole group went fourth, I lost my place and came in fortieth.

3. weather whether: We don't know whether the weather will be hot or cold.

4. weave we've -- It's getting cold. We've got to weave another blanket

(only #4 is correct.)

To extend the "pome" lesson above, as either an oral or written exercise, students can write their own poems, stories or sentences and have other students correct them.

If you are using it as a lesson, you might want reference the words in the list, or even ask the students to come up with more examples.

Knowing the differences between similar words, and using them correctly can often make the difference in your credibility whether you are writing a hub or a résumé. (see sidebar)

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Comments 28 comments

Jamie Carroll profile image

Jamie Carroll 8 years ago from California

Spoken like a true teacher. I love this article!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, I enjoyed doing this one-- and my students usually enjoyed the pome lesson.


ErikC profile image

ErikC 8 years ago from Langley, BC

I love it! "Congradulations" is one of my all time least favorite "words".

As an aside, I think it is interesting to note that certain dialects and accents in English will produce different homophones. For instance, in the U.S. (especially in the South) the words "writer" and "rider" are indistinguishable to the ear, but in Canada and certain areas of the Northeastern U.S. the "i" and "t" are completely different in the two words. I saw this in Wikipedia attributed to something called the "Canadian Rising", which is the same pronunciation phonomenon that makes it sounds like "hoose" instead of "house" when we point out where we live.

I know this is not exactly what you are refering to in this Hub, but I thought it might interest you. Or me, anyway ;)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

OH, darn-- I knew I was going to get conGRADulated.

Yes regional pronunciation does play a part-- Jeff Foxworthy of "you know you are a Redneck if . . ." fame, has some great funny examples of that sort.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

I also get upset when people talk about getting "orientated." I also want politicians to take a course in saying "nuclear" instead of "nucular".


Glenn Frank profile image

Glenn Frank 8 years ago from Southern California

I propose a new amendment to the US constitution that to be president, one has to be able to pronounce the word nuclear correctly!


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 8 years ago from Australia

Oh darn Rochelle , I reely wanted two find out how too spell to?, butt it looks like I cant heir. Oh well. Thank you for the Englesh lessen.


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 7 years ago from Hell, MI

A very affective tutorial. I was not the least bit board, while I red this won. Thank ewe fore clearing this up four me.


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 7 years ago from Hell, MI

Apologies for that last post. Aye often find that eye have two much thyme on my hands.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Stop hopping around in the herb garden-- you need to be out their posting hubs.


B.T. Evilpants profile image

B.T. Evilpants 7 years ago from Hell, MI

In my case, it would be considered more akin to composting, than posting. That reminds me, I'm off to work on my Hubmob hub! Thanks again for a grate reed!


spryte profile image

spryte 7 years ago from Arizona, USA

Rochelle - Only #4 is correct? Help!!! #3 looks correct to me too and now I'm really concerned. I thought I had these homonym things licked.

Of course, I really love the mix-ups caused by homonyms. It's a never-ending source of humor and you have captured it really well. Great hub!


julia ward profile image

julia ward 7 years ago from Florida

Hi Rochelle,

GREAT article! I get twitchy when I hear "I'm going fur a soda.", instead of "I'm going FOR a soda."

blessings,

julia

julia ward - a BLINDING heart - a writer's blog - www.ablindingheart.com


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 7 years ago from California

This was a fun read, Rochelle as expected.  I couldn't help thinking about the old Gallagher sketch where he bags on the language when I read this hub.  I even went and found it just for kicks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2acXjdPzlY

(he doesn't get really onto the language till about half way).

Anyway, thanks for the poem up there, I'm keeping that one to mess with people lol.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Rochelle: This was great fun. One of my teachers gave me a card for my graduation that said, "conGRADulations," and I still write that first today, and then realize my error and correct. Once you get something in your head it's hard to stop. Thanks!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Good for you sprite-- You are right. Now the question is . . . did I do that on purpose, or not.

(Of course I could really mess with people by simply editing it, couldn't I?)


Marian Swift profile image

Marian Swift 7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

Rochelle: Here, here! (To invoke a pet peeve of my own.) Spryte's right, though ... #3 is correct. S'OK. It's hard to write wrong on porpoise. Great Hub!

(Oops .. your answer to Spryte crossed with mine.)


spryte profile image

spryte 7 years ago from Arizona, USA

Rochelle - LOL! That's something that Shade has done to me. When I saw it...I of course at first said, hmmm...Rochelle is testing us and okay, I'll be brave and say I think it's right and then Rochelle will say, "Wow, that Spryte is one smart hubber!"

Yes, I'm pathetically needy when it comes to praise. :)


Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 7 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Rochelle! The one I always catch myself with when I'm in a hurry is then - than

Great hub once (or maybe ones )again

regards Zsuzsy


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks Zsuzsy-- It has been awhile sinde I read this myself, and It's better than i first thought.

Isn't English a wonderful language?


txgal profile image

txgal 7 years ago from Texas

Homophones. Was teaching that last year to english language learners. Will do it again once school starts. Great hub.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, txgal. I try to have some fun with it, but it can be confusing.


Jack 5 years ago

Actually, you're wrong!!! And you think you're so smart. It is spelt "congraTulations" but is perfectly correct to pronounce it "congraDulations." Millions of people in English speaking countries, including well educated ones, change the T sound to a D sound in certain words. Another example could be beauTiful (often spoken beauDiful) or the name Peter (often spoken PeDer). There is a difference between how things are often spelt and acceptable ways to pronounce them.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes, you make some good points. Many people pronounce their T's as D's and vice versa, but words like "madder" and "matter" are entirely different in meaning. I am talking more about writing and spelling.

(By the way, "spelt" is an ancient grain similar to wheat.)


celeBritys4africA profile image

celeBritys4africA 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

A very useful hub.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks a lot. Hope it wasn't too confusing.


NuIfEm profile image

NuIfEm 4 months ago from Malaysia

Sometimes, I also confused with words that sound like similar. But, you've explained about homophones/homonyms well in this hub. Thanks, Rochelle Frank for sharing this knowledge with us


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 months ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, NuIfEm. I think I only scratched the surface. There are many more homophones that regularly frustrate both non-native and native English speakers.

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