WHAT IS A HOMOPHONE?
The word homophone is derived from the Greek words “homo” (meaning same) and “phone” (meaning sound). In plain English, homophones are words that sound similar or are even pronounced the same way, but have different meanings. In English text, they can be readily identified by the way they are spelt, and the context in which they appear. They are so commonly used in spoken English that you cannot afford to ignore them. Homophones are easy to misunderstand. Generally, the context of the conversation will tip you off to the correct interpretation. But don’t be too hard on yourself if a few get lost in translation. Even fluent and native English speakers can and do make mistakes.
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FIVE COMMONLY USED HOMOPHONES
We couldn’t possibly fit all the homophones that feature in the English language in this blog. Instead, we’ve put together five common homophones you will hear in conversation regularly. By using these examples as a foundation, you can build up your own custom homophone database. With practice, you’ll improve your understanding of homophones. This knowledge will also help you distinguish between British English and American English. You’ll be surprised how quickly you will notice the subtle differences. When you read an example sentence or two below, it will all start coming together.
1: AIR VS HEIR
The air we breathe is not to be mistaken for the heir to an outrageous fortune. An heir is a person next in line to an inheritance. Air is what you suck into your lungs to stay alive.
2: COIGN VS COIN
To “coin a phrase” means you are the individual to invent or to create a phrase. A coin or the plural “coins” are the change in your pocket. Coin refers to non-paper money. However, coign refers to a projecting angle or corner of a wall.
3: FREEZE VS FRIEZE
You freeze a pizza or meat when you want to preserve it at low temperature to eat later. But if you visit an art gallery, you may encounter wide horizontal artwork mounted on the wall; either sculpted or painted, this is known as frieze and has nothing to do with the cold.
4: MEAT VS MEET
Meat is the animal product you eat for dinner. A thick, juicy steak is a nice piece of meat. But if you are arranging an appointment, you agree to meet a person at a place and time. You may decide to meet your friend in a restaurant; on the menu, you’ll find a selection of meat dishes.
5: THEIR VS THERE VS THEY’RE
Their and there are all too easily confused with they’re. The key difference is “their” denotes the possessive case. Their boots, their clothes, and their motorcycles were stolen by the Terminator. “There” indicates a place, or is used to start a clause. There is still a chance to confuse this word here and there. And last but not least, “they’re” is the contraction of they and are. They’re getting it now.
HOMOPHONES AND WORDPLAY
Homophones are used to deliberately make some word games and puzzles more challenging. Crosswords always feature homophones and are a great way to test your skills. Of course, you need to warm up first and have some fun. Learning need not be boring or too time-consuming. You can always find time for a rapid-fire homophone game on your coffee break. Before you know it, even complicated wordplay will become second nature.