What are homophones? Learn to write right

What are homophones? Learn to write right

by Laura Jones

Updated November 10, 2022

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Homophones usually come in pairs (or is it pears?) but they can also come in threes, like bye, by and buy. They are one of the many reasons why English spelling is really tricky for learners and native speakers alike, but we’re here (hear?) to help you get your head around them. 

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What’s the difference between homophones and heteronyms?

Homophones have the same pronunciation though the spelling is different. In contrast, heteronyms have the same spelling, but the pronunciation of the words is different. In both cases, the words have different meanings. Examples of heteronyms include row /raʊ/, meaning an argument, and row /roʊ/, meaning to move a boat on the water using oars. 

Two-word homophones

Here are some examples of homophone words with their meanings and pronunciation.

bare – not covered by clothes
She likes to walk around in bare feet.
bear – a wild animal with thick fur and claws, e.g. a grizzly bear
I hope we don’t run into any bears on this hike.
berry – a small fruit on plants and trees, e.g. raspberry
Is that berry edible?
bury – to put something into a hole in the ground and cover it, often a body
We will bury him next to his wife.
flour – a fine white or brown powder often made from wheat, used to make bread
I want to make a cake but I don’t have any flour.
flower – the brightly colored, often scented part of a plant
What a beautiful flower!
heal – to get well again after an illness or injury
I hope my knee will heal in time for the race.
heel – the rounded, back part of your foot or the raised part of the back of a shoe
These new shoes have rubbed on my heel.
pair – two of the same of something that should be used together
Can I borrow a pair of socks?
pear – a sweet fruit with green skin that is narrow at the top and wide at the bottom
Please pass me a pear.
rain – water that falls from the clouds in drops
Look at the rain! 
reign – to be king or queen of a country
I wonder how long he will reign for.
sight – the ability to see, or the sense you use to see
I have poor sight so I can’t be a pilot.
site – a place where something was or will be built or happened or will happen
They’ve chosen a site for the new swimming pool.
your – a pronoun 
Please pick up your bag.
you’re – a contraction for you are
You’re always welcome here.

Be aware that these words are homophones when pronounced in a General American accent. As native English speakers have an enormous variety of accents, not everyone will pronounce these words the same way. An example of this is berry and bury. Bury, in the north of England, might be pronounced burry

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Three-word homophones

And now here are some examples of three-word homophones and their meanings. 

Buy, by, bye

N-Sync was not singing ‘buy, by, bye’, but they could have been as these words are homophones. They are pronounced /baɪ/.

Buy: to purchase something. Can you buy me a soda?

By: a preposition to show a person or thing that does something. This book was written by Tolstoy. 

Bye: goodbye. Bye! See you tomorrow. 

Dew, do, due

These are homophones in American English, pronounced /duː/. But, in British English, only do is pronounced /duː/, while dew and due are pronounced /dʒuː/.

Dew: small drops of water that form on the ground and other surfaces during the night. There is a lot of dew this morning.

Do: a verb used to indicate an action. What do you do?

Due: arranged or expected to happen. The library book is due back tomorrow. 

Their, there, they’re

Some of the most commonly confused words in English are their, there and they’re, pronounced /ðer/. 

Their: belonging to someone. That is their dog.

There: at or in a place or position. The dog is over there.

They’re: a contraction of they are: They’re going to have to bathe the dog when they get home.

To, too, two

More words that native speakers often mix up: to, too and two, pronounced /tuː/. 

To: in the direction of. We’re going to Prague tomorrow.

Too: more than is suitable, needed or wanted. It’s too difficult to remember the difference! 

Two: the number 2: The Smiths have two dogs.

Can you use these homophones?

It shouldn’t be too difficult to put some of these homophones into your writing. After all, they’re mainly pretty common words. With homophones, the pronunciation is easy – nail it for one word, and you’ve got it for all of them. It’s the spelling that’s going to trip you up, but with some concentration, you’ll reign supreme as homophone royalty. 

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Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.

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