EDITING 101: 16 – Homonyms, Homographs, and Homophones…

 Homonyms, Homographs, and Homophones

I had a lot of fun researching today’s post. (Yes, I’m an über-geek, but let’s just keep this to ourselves, shall we?) You may be wondering what these words are (and how in the world they pertain to writing), but you’ll be surprised once I define them. I’m sure you know exactly what they are; you just don’t know the official words for them. And we’re only interested in one when it comes to writing and editing.

Homonyms are words with the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but they have different meanings:

  • bear (animal) and bear (tolerate)

  • rose (flower) and rose (past tense of “rise”)

  • spruce up a room and a spruce tree

See? You knew that, right? Let’s go on.

Homographs are words with the same spelling, but different pronunciation and different meanings:

  • desert (to abandon) and desert (an area of land)

  • a bass fish, a bass instrument

  • I wind the clock, the wind blew

You knew them, too! What a smarty you are. Now we’re getting to the one we have to watch out for in writing and editing.

Homophones are words with different spellings but the same pronunciation and different meanings. Some you’re probably very familiar with:

  • bear and bare

  • due and do

  • they’re, their, and there

  • threw and through

  • to, two, and too

  • waist and waste

  • waive and wave

  • whose and who’s

Spell check and other grammar programs will not catch homophones, because the wrong word used in context is actually a proper word. For these errors, you need a real, live human being who can understand the context of your words and pick out when you’ve used the wrong one. Either a copy editor, a beta reader, or a helpful reading friend can be useful in finding these. Some others, which can be very tricky and hard to spot, are as follows (the asterisked ones I see frequently):

  • break and brake*

  • chow and ciao*

  • firs and furs*

  • fore, four, and for*

  • led and lead*

  • leech and leach*

  • peak, peek, and pique*

  • poor, pour, and pore*

  • racked and wracked*

  • road, rode, and rowed*

  • weak and week*

  • wreak and reek*

  • yolk and yoke*

  • your, you’re, and yore*

  • aisle, I’ll, and isle

  • bore, boor, and boar

  • carat, caret, carrot, and karat

  • creak and creek

  • flower and flour

  • forward and foreword (not in most British accents)

  • libel and liable

  • our, hour, and are

  • plain and plane

  • racket, raquette, and rackett

  • sun and son

  • wade and weighed

  • wait and weight

  • wale, wail, and whale

  • which and witch

Most homonyms occur in pairs, as you can see in the lists above. Some are triples and are called “multinyms.” A list of them can be found HERE (if your geeky curiosity equals mine)

Wikipedia says that in English, there are approximately 88 triples; 24 quadruples; two quintuples; one sextet and one septet. The septet is:

  • Raise, rays, rase, raze, rehs, réis, res

Other than the three common words (raise, rays, and raze), there are:

  • rase – a verb meaning “to erase”;

  • rehs – the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India;

  • réis – the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil; and

  • res – the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale.

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Powerful Protagonists’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE


This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.





Other Links:



51 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 16 – Homonyms, Homographs, and Homophones…

  1. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    The distinction between homonyms, homographs and homophones may seem as trivial now as when you slept through high school English. (I loved most of high school Englishbut even I slept through this one.) When you’re getting ready to publish, however, not paying attention can make you look bad to critical readers. And they’re out there. I’ve had more than one e-mail pointing out stupid proofreading errors. Don’t let those emails end up in reviews,.

    Liked by 2 people


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.