How to avoid mixing up words that sound the same

They’re the words and phrases that are always there, ready to trip up reporters when writing their stories.

They won’t be sorted out by a spellcheck.

But those homophones – words which sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings – can make us look silly if we’re not careful.

So here’s a guide through the minefield of some of the most common ones – ones which I see with slightly alarming regularity.

Accept and except: I accept the views of most people, except the ones I disagree with

Aloud and allowed: Singing aloud should not be allowed on buses

Break and brake: My brakes failed, causing me to crash and break my leg

Breech and breach: Midwives breached normal safety procedures to deliver a breech baby at the roadside

Canvas and canvass: The pollsters spent the night camping under canvas after canvassing opinions all day

Chord and cord: The tragedy of the man with the damaged spinal cord struck a chord with readers

Curb and kerb: The council is bringing in new rules to curb parking on kerbs

Desert and dessert: Before he set off for the desert, the explorer tucked into a massive meal, including dessert

Die and dye: I would rather die than dye my hair green

Discreet and discrete: The diplomat was discreet about the fact that private and public lives had to be kept discrete

Flair and flare: He wore his flared trousers with flair as he set off the distress flares

It’s and its: It’s time for the council to take its duties seriously

Marshal and martial: The volunteer dad acted as a marshal at the martial arts event

Navel and naval: The naval officer had a very strange navel, which he blamed on his mum

Pedal and peddle: The enterprising cyclist used pedal power to peddle his wares

Pore and pour: Sweat poured out of every pore

Principal and principle: The principal of the college resigned on principle after being told to cut courses

Reign and rein: Republicans want to rein in the monarchy, saying the Queen has reigned for too long

Stationary and stationery: The lorry carrying the office stationery was stationary in a traffic jam

Story and storey: I am writing this story on the third storey of this building

Team and teem: The team all had umbrellas, ready for it to teem with rain

Through and threw: I threw a stone through the window

Throne and thrown: The throne was in the Buckingham Palace skip, thrown there by an angry Prince Philip

Who’s and whose: The man who’s writing this is the same man whose blog is littered with homophones

Hope that helps.

Strangely enough, I won’t be providing a sentence that helps you distinguish between seamen and semen. You’re on your own there.


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