Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

Is it a Homonym or a Homophone?


There are many strange rules for spelling and grammar in the English language, and often they are difficult to learn for any age group. For example, adults who learned the difference between homonyms and homophones in their youth may not remember these rules as they age. Unfortunately, this leads to mistakes with writing and spelling, looks unprofessional and makes reading difficult. However, more often than not, these are common mistakes that almost everyone makes at one time or another.

Homonyms are very special words; the prefix comes from the Greek word homos, which means “the same,” but in the case of “homonym,” the suffix “nym” is also from Greek.  It derives from the ancient Greek word onyma, which means “name.”  Because of this, it is easy to see that a homonym describes words that have the same name, or spelling, but mean different things.  For instance, a bat can be a stick used to play baseball, or a small, furry, flying creature, while the word fawn is a color, a baby deer, and a synonym for sucking up or brown nosing.

As with the word “homonym,” the root of “homophone” means “the same,” but the suffix “phone” refers to the sound of something, or its voice.  Therefore, a homophone refers to a word that has the same sound, but different meanings and spellings.  “Our” and “hour” are homophones to one another, as are the words “bizarre” and “bazaar,” “heir” and “air,” and many others as well.  People typically make more mistakes when it comes to distinguishing between different homophones, especially in certain cases, as evidenced just below.

Common Mistakes
People tend to make more mistakes when they are trying to differentiate between homophones.  “Too,” “to,” and “two” are especially tricking; people typically use the word “to,” which can be either a preposition or an infinitive, in the place of “too,” which can mean “also” or it can be used to show that something is excessive, i.e., “I ate way too much.”  “Their,” “there,” and “they're” are very tricky homophones, and people tend to get them mixed up quite often.  However, once you learn how to distinguish between the rules of homonyms and homophones, it is easy to choose the right word.

Distinguishing the Two
The best way to determine whether a word is a homonym or a homophone is to pay attention to syntax.  Because homonyms are spelled the same, mistakes are not as difficult to make and it is easier to tell the difference between the necessary word usages.  With homophones, however, syntax and content make all the difference.  People who use “they're” in the place of “there” or “their,” for instance, should notice that it is a contraction. Unless the sentence makes sense by saying “they are” as well, then another form should be used.

The Importance of Telling the Difference
It is incredibly important to tell the difference between homonyms and homophones. Using the wrong word in a written sentence can make the sentence mean different things. Additionally, it can reflect badly on the writer, especially if the reader knows the difference.  Rather than coming across as a person who does not know the difference, take the time to learn the difference between homonyms and homophones.