10 most confusing English homophones

We all know that the English language loves to keep the world on its’ toes – and what better way to keep speakers / learners second-guessing themselves than with homophones!

What is a homophone?

Homophones are two or more words that sound the same but are spelt different and have different meanings. As a result, they love to trip up native speakers and learners – particularly when it comes to spelling!

It might not matter much in conversation but understanding the nuances of these words will make writing CVs, cover letters, and emails so much easier – and will impress whoever’s reading!

Common homophones

Use this post as your personal manual for some of the most common – and confusing – homophones so you can memorize their differences.

Effect / Affect:

Effect is used as a noun and refers to the impact of change – for example, “the effect of the medicine was negative”

Affect means to have influence or impact – for example, “this medicine affected me negatively”

Stationary / Stationery:

This is one pair of homophones that most native speakers don’t even know exist!

Stationary is used as an adjective to describe something that is still or unmoving – for example “the car was stationary”.

Meanwhile, stationery is a noun and refers collectively to objects used for writing (paper, pens, envelopes etc…).

Bear / Bare:

Bear isn’t just a homophone, it’s also a homograph! This means that the word has two meanings: firstly, it can be used as a noun to refer to the animal – for example “that bear is trying to eat me”. It can also be used as a verb to indicate endurance – for example, “I cannot bear the responsibility of caring for a bear”.

Bare is an adjective used to indicate a lack of something – usually clothing. For example, “her face was bare of all makeup”.

Break /Brake:

As a verb, break refers to something that is in the process of being, or is about to be, broken – for example, “please don’t break that vase” – whereas as a noun, it refers to a person having a rest from work or study – for example, “it’s time to take a break for lunch”.

 Brake refers to the mechanical device in a vehicle that allows it to stop and can also be used generally to refer to something stopping. For example, “keep your foot on the brake, these roads are dangerous”.

Won / One:

This one’s nice and simple:

Won is a verb and the past participle of the word win – for example, “he won the race”.

One is the written numerical value of the number ‘1’ – referring to a single unit. For example, “there can only be one winner in this race”.

You’re / Your:

You’re is the contraction of the phrase “You are” – for example, “you’re going to love Kaplan!”.

Meanwhile, your is a pronoun – “your English course starts next week… how exciting!”

Weather / Whether:

Weather refers to the current or upcoming atmospheric condition outside – for example, “the weather outside is stormy”.

Whether is a conjunction used to indicate doubt or choice between two or more alternatives – for example, “whether we go outside or not, it’s still raining”.

Buy / By:

Buy refers to the purchasing of an item – for example, “buy an English course with Kaplan today”.

By is a preposition used to indicate location – for example, “he’s over there by the window, dreaming about his time with Kaplan”.

Hear / Here:

Hear is the verb that means to discern sound through the ear – for example, “I can hear you talking”. A great way to know the difference is to remember that hear contains ear!

Here is an adverb used to confirm location or place – for example, “I am here at the park”.

Witch / Which:

Witch is common noun used to describe a woman who practices magic – for example “I’m going to dress up as a witch this Halloween”.

Meanwhile, which is used as a pronoun to reference things or animals – for example, “this is my new puppy, which I got last week”.

Their / There / They’re:

There is most used as a pronoun or adverb. For example, “there is a lot to consider before travelling abroad” (pronoun) and “park the car over there” (adverb).

Their is a pronoun – for example, “the students put their pens on the table”. 

They're is the contraction for “they are”. For example, “they're going to have practice immediately after school today”.

 

Want to improve your English? Take our free English test online and discover how Kaplan can help you reach your language goals.

 

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