Confusing English Words | Homophones Explained with Examples

By Aleja Briles

May 19, 2023

Woman practicing homophones

I’ll walk down the aisle on the tropical isle. The scent that he sent was only one cent. Wow! These sentences can be very confusing! Why? Because they are all about homophones!

Today’s post is completely focused on exploring homophones! So what is a homophone and why is it so important to understand? A homophone is two or more words that have the same pronunciation but different spelling. It’s so important to know the definitions and pronunciations of these words so that you can use them correctly in your conversations and in writing. Let’s go over a few examples!

  • Ate vs. Eight

    Let’s start with the first ‘ate’. This is the simple past tense of the verb ‘to eat’. For example, “I ate an entire pizza and now I’m really full.” or “She ate dinner before she came.” The second eight, as in the number eight, is a noun and represents the number after seven and before nine. For example “Charles will wake up at eight o’clock in the morning.” There’s a popular children’s joke that goes like this - Why was six afraid of seven? Answer - Because seven, eight, nine. Yes, it’s a pretty bad joke but it helps us learn the homophones and how they sound very similar to each other, but have different spelling.

  • Bare vs Bear

    The first ‘bare’ is an adjective. If something is bare that means it’s not covered or not decorated. “Tom likes to walk around his house in his bare feet, he says it’s more comfortable than wearing shoes” or “The walls were pretty bare when we moved into the house.” The second ‘bear’ is a noun. A bear is a large mammal in the forest like a grizzly bear, black bear or a brown bear. “When you go camping you should be careful to not leave any food out with a scent because it will attract bears.” or “The bear was by the river with her cubs.”

  • Buy vs By vs Bye

    Have you heard of NSYNC? They have a song called ‘Bye Bye Bye’. This is a good way to remember that there are three homophones that sound the same for bye. The first ‘buy’ is a verb and means to purchase something. It‘s probably one of the first verbs that you learned in English because it’s used so commonly. “I forgot my money at home, do you think you could buy me lunch and I‘ll pay you back?” The second form of ‘by’ is a preposition. This can be used in many different ways but it‘s commonly used to mean next to or near when describing a location. For example “The car is parked in the lot by the big light post.” It can also indicate who created something. “My favorite autobiography is ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” it‘s written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.” Now for the third form of ‘bye’. This is an exclamation or a shortening of goodbye. “I‘ve gotta go now, bye!” It is how you can end a conversation in a casual informal way.

  • Cell vs. Sell

    A ‘cell’ is a noun and refers to a small area or room usually in a prison. A cell can also be one of the smallest divisions of a living organism. “The prisoner spent 10 years confined to his cell” or “We were able to see the plant’s cells better under a microscope.” The second ‘sell’ is a verb meaning to exchange a product or service for money. Similar to the verb ‘buy’, it was probably one of the first verbs you learned. “We would like to sell our car but we don’t think we would get very much money for it.”

  • Dew vs. Do vs. Due

    This is another set of three homophones. Let‘s start with the first one ‘dew’ which is a noun. Dew is the name for the small drops of water that accumulate on plants and other objects outside during the night. “When I went outside early in the morning the dew on the grass made my shoes wet.” The second ‘do’ is a verb. This common verb is used to indicate an action but can also be an auxiliary verb. “What do you usually do on Friday nights?” Lastly our third form of ‘due’. This is an adjective and is used to indicate the deadline or final day that something can happen. It‘s also used to indicate when a baby is expected to be born. “My friend is pregnant, her baby is due in December.” or “The homework assignment is due on Monday.”

This was definitely a lot of information! Of course these aren’t the only homophones, there are many more than you can find with a quick Google search. Homophones can be tricky for ESL speakers, but it will really set you apart as a competent English speaker to start learning them! Good luck learning the different homophones! Start to use them in daily conversation and you will have them down in no time! Best of luck! Check out our video on homophones here:

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