Basics of writingConfusing words

Common homophone usage errors among writers–Part 1

From Rick:

Scott and I have done a couple of previous blogs on this topic (9/10/12 and 9/17/12). I’ve updated the blog categories to include one on Confusing Words, so you can find them easily. What I’m going to do this week and next is cover the more common homophone mistakes I’ve run across. There are many more homophones, of course. The most extensive listing, which has been around for many years, is from Alan Cooper: ALAN COOPER’S HOMONYMS. The list has a few drawbacks. One, it’s very long. Two, because of the format, it’s difficult to copy into another document, although you can print it (it’s 63 pages). Three, it’s still missing a few words and hasn’t been updated since 1997. I’m sure there are a few slang words that should be on it, and it’s missing “klick” (explained in this blog entry. Even so, it’s the most complete list out there.

So, this week and next week, we’ll point out the common errors and hope that they help you and don’t make you think too hard.

AID– to help; something that helps
AIDE– the person who helps; an assistant (The General’s aide)

AISLE– rows you find in a store or theater
ISLE– short for island

ALTAR– a place of religious worship (He placed the sacrifice on the altar)
ALTER– to change (He altered my destiny. The tailor altered the suit to fit.)

BALL– a round object; a dance
BAWL– to cry loudly (The baby bawled its lungs out.)

BARE– naked; stripped to the essentials; lacking adornment; as a verb, to strip to the essentials (He bared his soul. They sanded the floor down to the bare wood. She cut her expenses to the bare essentials.
BEAR– an animal; to withstand something; the produce (I couldn’t bear it. Living creatures bear offspring.) [NOTE: In the sense of bearing children, the verb forms are rear, bore, born (or borne). She bore him two sons. She had born (borne) him two sons.]

BASE– the bottom or foundation; low or contemptible; of low birth (The base of the statue. I won’t let my daughter marry such a base individual.)
BASS– a musical instrument; low sound frequencies. (He plays the bass guitar. His stereo system put out room-shaking bass.)

BOARDER– one who pays for lodging and meals; one who skis or skateboards
BORDER– the edge of something

CACHE– a hiding or storage place; also a computer term for a high-speed storage buffer. (He has a cache of money in his safe. The computer’s video card has 256 megabytes of cache memory.)
CASH– hard currency

CHORD– a combination of 3 or more musical notes played simultaneously; a line segment in geometry; an emotional feeling or response. (He played a series of chords on the guitar. Her story struck a chord with me.)
CORD– a slender rope; flexible electric wire; a unit of cut wood; a ropelike structure in muscles. (She tied his hands with a cord. The mouse chewed through the electrical cord. When he strained to free himself, the muscles in his neck corded.)

CLICK– a sound
CLIQUE– a small, exclusive group of people (She belonged to one of the popular cliques in school.)
KLICK– military term for a kilometer (It was ten klicks away.)

COUNCIL– an assembly of individuals for making decisions (The council met to decide the thief’s fate.)
COUNSEL– advice; to give advice; a lawyer or legal representative who gives advice (I gave my best counsel on how to handle the situation, but recommended that he consult legal counsel.)

CUE– a long stick used to play pool or billiards; a signal or prompt; to give a signal. (On cue, he unveiled the art work.)
QUEUE– a line of people (more common as British usage), or things waiting. (He stood in the queue for an hour before the doors opened. The DJ queued up the next ten songs and started them on cue from the director of the event.)

DIE– to quit living (verb forms: dying, died) (My dog died yesterday)
DYE– a coloring agent; to change the color (verb forms: dyeing, dyed) (She dyed her hair.)

DISC/DISK– look these up to be sure you’re using them right because in some cases, one is simply a variant of the other.

DISCREET– showing restraint or prudence; modest (Please be discreet when talking to my parents about my college roommate.
DISCRETE– distinct and separate (Older electronic circuits were made from discrete components instead of the integrated circuits used today. The display is made up of discrete pieces instead of having them connected.)

Now look up the following words on your own.


Until next time.


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