It’s a common scenario; people everywhere do it—maybe even you or your child.
You’re writing a note and are about to write the word peak. But wait! Your pencil poises midair: is it sneak peak? Or is it sneak peek? Now consider stationary and stationery; they are both pronounced the same, but which one means writing paper?
These sets of words are called homophones (or sometimes homonyms), and they can cause a lot of trouble for spellers.
Here are a few homophone pairs: deer and dear, billed and build, and sew, so, and sow.
Homophones occur in English because there are multiple ways to spell the same sound. For example:
Good question! Let’s look at homographs first.
Examples of common homographs include:
Here are some examples of homonyms:
You may have noticed that there is some overlap between the terms. For example, well and well can be categorized as both homographs AND homophones. And then there is added confusion because many people use the word homonyms when they are actually talking about homophones.
The easiest way to visualize the difference between these three terms is with a Venn diagram. Here’s a 30-second video that demonstrates the concepts.
Now that we’ve gotten the technical part out of the way, let’s see if we can help you and your children avoid homophone confusion!
First, let’s start with a list. There are LOTS of homophones. In fact, the list below contains more homophone pairs than you can shake a stick at! In order to make this list as useful as possible, words that are archaic, slang, naughty, or extremely uncommon have not been included.
Some words are homophones in some areas but not in others. For example, in certain parts of America, weather and whether are pronounced the same, but in other regions the WH in whether has retained a distinct /hw/ sound. The words acts and ax sound alike to most of us, but some people pronounce the T in acts.
Speakers in the U.S. pronounce due and do identically, but in most British accents those words are pronounced differently. The words boy and buoy have the same pronunciation in England (and therefore are homophones), but not in America.
You can be the final judge as to whether certain word pairs are homophones in your neck of the woods.
If your child struggles with spelling, concentrating on homophone pairs is one of the most confusing things you can do. Why is that? Think about it like this: imagine you met three new people this week.
Would it be easier to remember their names if you met them all at the same time? Or would their names be easier to remember if you met them at different times, under different circumstances? Most of us would agree that it would be easier to recall their names if the meetings were spaced out a bit.
Homophones are like that: meet them all at once and they get tangled up in your brain.
Trying to tackle a homophone pair like wait and weight in the same lesson can cause confusion where there shouldn’t be any. But this simple strategy can combat the confusion:
In the case of wait and weight, teach wait first. In the All About Spelling program, we teach words containing AI long before we teach words containing EIGH – and we do so very deliberately. The vowel team AI is a much more common spelling of the long A sound than EIGH, so wait is taught sooner in the program.
After teaching the word wait, we reinforce the teaching in multiple ways until the word is mastered:
And that leads us to my #1 tip for teaching homophones:
Let your student fully master the correct spelling and usage of wait before the homophone weight is introduced. By doing so, you greatly minimize the confusion and set your child up for success with homophones.
Another great way to minimize homophone confusion is to provide context for the words. When teaching the word sore, for example, you might share this interesting folk remedy:
If you have a sore throat, try this: spit into the mouth of a frog and your sore throat will be cured!
Now there’s something to talk about:
By the time the lesson is over, your child will be much more familiar with the meaning and spelling of this synonym for painful.
Of course, you can’t go into this much detail to teach every homophone, but even placing the word in a meaningful sentence goes a long way to provide clarity.
Homophones can be confusing, but they can also be fun! There are lots of ways to make learning about homophones enjoyable, such as using games, tongue twisters, graphic organizers, storybooks, and more. Check out the resources below!
Pique your child’s interest in homophones by sharing these riddles and puns. For example:
Q: What is a quick look at a mountaintop? A: A peak peek.
When a spelling word has a homophone, point it out to your student and have him add it to his own personal homophones list.
Play with our free Homophone Machine! Type in any word, sentence, or paragraph and click the Convert button to see the homophones.
Try this one: “I would like to show you my new horse.” I think you’ll get a good chuckle!
And finally, here’s a shameless plug for my All About Spelling program…
All About Spelling incorporates all the tips you’ve read about in this article.
Beginning in Level 3, the All About Spelling program teaches homophones in a way that prevents homophone confusion.
Which pairs of homophones cause your child the most difficulty? Post in the comments below!