Homonyms – homophones and homographs

The word homonym is often used to describe all words that look or sound  the same, but have different meanings. In fact, there are two subsets of homonyms – homophones and homographs.

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

air
ear
heir

Homographs are words that are spelled the same and have the same or different sound, but different meanings.

lie (untruth)
lie (lie down)

Heteronyms are a type of homograph that are spelled the same, but sound different and have different meanings.

lead – show the way
lead – metal

Common homophone mistakes include:

it’s and its
their, there and they’re
to, two and too
your and you’re

it’s and its

It’s only has an apostrophe when it is short for it is or it has.

It’s a lovely day. (It is a lovely day.)
It’s been a lovely day. (It has been a lovely day.)

Its without an apostrophe indicates possession or ownership. It is known as a possessive pronoun or determiner.

The airline has drastically cut its prices. (prices belong to the airline)

their, there and they’re

Their is a possessive pronoun that modifies a noun.

They ate their dinner.

There is primarily used as an adverb relating to place, but can also be used  as an adjective (that there man) and a pronoun (There is no hope).

I flew there in a jet plane.

They’re is an abbreviation of they are.

They’re late for the meeting.

to, two and too

To is a preposition with a number of different meanings, including going towards somewhere.

I am travelling to South America tomorrow.

It also indicates an infinitive verb (to sleep) and can be an adverb when it is teamed up with a verb (come to).

Two is a number. It can be used as a noun, determiner or pronoun.

One plus one equals two. (noun)
I bought two new dresses. (determiner)
The bed sleeps two. (pronoun)

Too is an adverb meaning also or excessively or extremely.

She’s coming too.
I am too tired to go.

your and you’re

Your is the possessive form of you. It can be defined as a determiner, adjective or possessive pronoun.

Your exercise regime is admirable.

You’re is an abbreviation of you are (pronoun and verb).

You’re (you are) making good progress.

Learn more about commonly confused words with Mary Morel’s online program, 100 Commonly Confused Words.

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