Danger! Danger! Homophone Misuse!

A fabulous way to turn off educated readers (and editors) is consistently using the wrong homophone. It’s a simple misunderstanding that could cost big time.

Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meaning. They may be spelled the same or have different spellings. To get started, we are going to focus on two homophone problems that are all too common in English.

I just used one set of them: “to,” “too,” and “two.”

These words are all homophones of each other, and they get misused all the time. “Two” is probably the least misused because it’s the number 2 (think “it has to have 2 to ‘double u’ (w)”).

People switch the other two all the time, but a simple memory device can help.

  • Too” means “excessively” (too much work!) or “also” (let me come, too!)

You can remember this with a memory device: “Too” has too many o’s.

  • To” is a preposition (to the bat cave!) or an infinitive (to fix).

Basically, it starts a verb or noun phrase; however, if you don’t want to focus on verbs and nouns, use process of elimination – if the meaning isn’t “2,” “excessively,” or “also,” you want to use “to.

Another terribly problematic homophone group is “your” and “you’re.”

  • Your” is possessive. The word after “your” belongs to “you (your pen).
  • You’re” is a contraction. It means “you are” (you’re getting better at this!).

These are switched all the time. When they are, people who know the difference either are not going to take you seriously, or they are going to get turned off and stop reading because every time the switch happens, you lose a little credit as a writer. That’s not good in a blog, and it’s even worse in a novel.

To clarify, I’m not saying you can’t make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does, and if you’re posting regularly, you may not have time to proofread too closely. In a novel, you can read it a million times and still find errors. You’re going to mistype words sometimes no matter what. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about regularly misusing them – to the point where the reader has to assume you don’t know which is right. That’s an impression you do not want to give. When you mess up a big, complicated grammar rule, people are more forgiving than when you confuse words that are used all the time. If your plan is to succeed without too much trouble, you’re better off learning these two homophone sets.

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