What the Heck are Homophones?

That's right—they're back! If you've been with us for a while, you may have seen a post earlier this year on this very subject. Regrettably, no one post could ever hope to contain the raw, unmitigated horror of commonly confused homophones.

To recap, a homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word when said out loud but differs in spelling, meaning, or both. We've already covered the dreaded to vs. too, as well as some of the more nuanced word pairs ... so what fresh nightmares await us today?

Tyrone Couch is the guest blogger of this post More Commonly Confused Words: Homophones. I'm sure you'll enjoy Ty's humour!

Skeleton sitting around a fire - Commonly Confused Words

Aloud vs. Allowed

Let's not mince words (no, seriously, I'm really asking you); please don't get caught mixing these two up.

As a youth, a friend of mine used to send me text messages asking if I was 'aloud out' to play. Even back then, it was almost enough for me to want to say no!

Aloud is how you should be reading your writing to make sure it has good rhythm and inflection—that is to say, out loud!

She stood in front of the class and began to read her work aloud.

If you're allowed to do something, you have been given the permission necessary to do so.

Much to my dismay, I was allowed out to play.

Elicit vs. Illicit

When you elicit something, you are inciting a response or reaction from it.

I made a silly face and waved my arms around, trying to elicit a laugh from her.

Illicit, on the other hand, indicates that something is not legal or otherwise frowned upon by societal rules or etiquette.

The autopsy revealed traces of illicit substances in his bloodstream, shedding light on the circumstances of the crime.

Poring vs. Pouring

This set of commonly confused homophones is most commonly confused in the context of 'pouring [sic] something over', meaning to study it intently. If you're doing this, you're not pouring at all, but poring.

I spent the whole night in the study poring over old newspaper articles.

The only thing you should be pouring yourself is a nice, big glass of orange juice (or wine, if you're that way inclined!). To be excruciatingly clear on this point though, pouring can refer to the flowing or falling of any liquid.

I sat in the bath, scooping cupfuls of warm water and pouring it over my head.

Dual vs. Duel

Dual describes something that is composed of two parts, or refers more generally to the concept of two.

The driving instructor's car had dual controls so that she could operate it from the passenger seat if necessary.

Traditionally, a duel referred to single combat (i.e., a pre-arranged fight between two people) ... but as such things have become less prevalent, duels have come to refer to any one-on-one contest.

A teacher of mine once described a chess match as a duel of the minds.

Breach vs. Breech

Getting this word pair confused is a mistake I made unknowingly for longer than I'd like to admit. I was so convinced I had it right that even now, I have to convince myself a little that the correct usage is as it is!

In a general sense, a breach is any act of breaking or rupturing (or the result of having done so). It's the word you'd use for a whale bursting through the surface of the ocean, a violation of the law, a gap in a castle wall, or a failure to honour the terms of a contract.

Many people consider resting your elbows on the dinner table a breach of etiquette.

Breech is a far less versatile word, and almost certainly not the one you're thinking of. A breech is ... well, it's your bum!

What? Why are you looking at me like that? I'm serious!

The breech is the rear, lower part of anything ... but other than your backside, its only common applications are in referencing a component of a gun or the lowest part of a pulley (and these are not all that common).

A breech delivery is a complicated birth in which a baby's rear end exits the birth canal first.

In other words, if you're not sure which word is correct and you don't have a dictionary on hand, it's probably breach!

Brake vs. Break

To bring us full circle, we end on yet another of the cardinal sins of commonly confused homophones.

A brake is a part of a mechanical system that slows or stops motion, such as the all-important brakes in your car. As a verb, to brake is the act of applying such a brake (or otherwise slow down).

When the car in front of him came to a sudden stop, he slammed his foot on the brake pedal.

Break is what my heart does when people use one of these words in place of the other. It shatters and divides violently.

One well-placed swing of his pickaxe was all it took to break the boulder.

Even More Commonly Confused Words & Homophones

If you still haven't slaked your appetite for carnage, revisit our first and second posts on word pairs.


Photo credit Ricardo Díaz, Unsplash

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