We’ve all had that moment. Your eyes are weak. You’re tired. You’ve been proofreading for hours, and you come across something that just doesn’t look right, but you can’t figure out why.
It’s probably because it’s a homophone — one of those tricky grammar phenomena that trip a lot of people up!
Most people have an excuse for missing these words though, but not us proofreaders! We’re held to a much higher standard. Not being able to spot misused words is the quickest way to look unskilled and incompetent as a proofreader.
Here are 12 examples of commonly confused homophones you need to get your head around if you want to be a successful proofreader!
What Is a Homophone?
Homophones are two or more words that sound the same but have different meanings, origins, or spelling.
They are sometimes confused with homonyms and homographs.
Homonyms — words that are spelled the same and sound the same but have different meanings
Homographs — words that have the same spelling but sound different and have a different meaning
Why Is It Hard to Spot Homophones?
Your brain sees what it wants to see. When you’re reading a document, especially if you wrote said document, you usually know what you or the writer meant to say, so your brain automatically skips over the words.
As proofreaders, we need to train ourselves to read more slowly so we don’t skip over errors like homophones.
Before you object and tell me that Word’s Spell Check feature or the Grammarly app will spot those mistakes, so you don’t have to worry about them, let me stop you right there.
Proofreading apps often miss things like this. They struggle to pick up on context, so that’s why the human mind will always be better when it comes to proofreading.
Common Homophones Proofreaders Need to Understand
There are dozens of homophones you need to be aware of, but I’ll give you a short list of the most common homophones you need to understand.
Catch these and you’re well on your way to impressing your proofreading clients!
Your is the possessive form of you.
Example: Your dog bit me!
You’re is the contraction for “you are.”
Example: You’re going to have to pay my medical expenses now.
Their is the possessive of they.
Example: Their shoes were dirty because they have been out bird watching in the park.
There means “in that place” or “in that way.”
Example: They have bird watched there for many years.
They’re is the contraction of “they are”
Example: They’re going to win an award for identifying a rare type of bird they found.
Too means “in addition to” or “more than was desirable.”
Example: Is she coming to the mermaid appreciation conference too?
Example: You put too many sprinkles on my cake!
The word “to” indicates movement or expresses location.
Example: He went to Disneyland even though he had a deep-seated fear of Mickey Mouse.
Two is a number.
Example: I have two main loves in life: coffee and cats.
A compliment is a flattering or praising remark.
Example: He wanted to compliment her on her sunny disposition, but he was too shy.
A complement is something that adds extra features to something to make it better.
Example: This blog post is a wonderful complement to the Look Better in Writing Handbook. 😉
To pray means to address a prayer to God or to wish for something.
Example: I pray for world peace every night.
Prey means to hunt or a person who is easily deceived.
Example: I will no longer fall prey to any more scams now that I’ve found a legitimate work-from-home opportunity.
Stationary means staying in one place or being in a state of immobility.
Example: She remained stationary so that she wouldn’t be spotted.
Stationery denotes writing materials.
Example: Her favorite summer activity was buying stationery for the new school year.
A corps is a body of like workers, as in an army, with special duties and responsibilities.
Example: They joined the Marine Corps together just like they have planned since childhood.
Core means the central or most important part of something.
Example: I ate the apple right down to the core because I was so hungry.
Weather means atmospheric conditions like cold, hot, rain, etc.
Example: The weather is always amazing in Florida, except during hurricane season!
You use whether when you want to express a choice between alternatives.
Example: I couldn’t decide whether I wanted rocky road or mint chocolate chip, so I got both!
An heir is a person legally entitled to a deceased person’s money or belongings.
Example: He was heir to a huge fortune, but he gave it all up for love.
Air is a substance consisting mainly of oxygen and nitrogen.
Example: The air was thick with smoke due to the nearby forest fires.
An ant is a small insect that lives in a colony.
Example: I crushed that ant like a bug!
An aunt is a family member — a sibling to your father or mother.
Example: I crushed my aunt like a bug! (Just kidding!!)
To write means to mark letters, numbers, or symbols on a surface like paper or online.
Example: I love to write because it allows me to connect with fellow word nerds!
Right means something that’s true or morally correct. It’s also a direction.
Example: I’m right all the time — at least, I think I am!
Genes are characteristics you inherit from your parents.
Example: I got my good genes from my parents.
Jeans are a type of trousers.
Example: I stopped wearing jeans the minute we went into lockdown!
Introducing the Look Better in Writing Handbook
Want to find all the answers to your homophone questions in one handy eBook instead of scouring the internet every time you have a question?
You need my Look Better in Writing Handbook — a 57-page guide to 166 words/terms that are easily mixed up and confused!
All those pesky homophones, misspellings, and typos you torture yourself with are included in this handy guide, ready for you whenever your brain malfunctions. You can easily find the correct word without spending wasted minutes searching online.
The words are in alphabetical order and, better yet, they come with practical and humorous examples to get you on your way. The correct wording appears in a different color so you never have to wonder if you got it right.
Once you’ve read and absorbed the handbook, it’s time to test your knowledge with my 100-question worksheet + answer key to help you master the proper use of the words.
Please note that this resource guide and worksheet are included as bonuses in the Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice and General Proofreading: Theory and Practice courses.
Did you love learning the difference between all of these common homophones? Keep the fun going by checking out various punctuation pet peeves and grammar myths that drive me crazy! I bet they get on your wick too.
Want to find out more about becoming a freelance proofreader? Sign up for our free Intro to Proofreading workshop!
Do any other homophones tend to trip you up? Let me know in the comments!