A Matter of One Little Letter

Ever heard of a homophone? No, it’s not that antique thing your grandparents played music on. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently (and hence have different meanings). Writers know how even one letter can radically change the meaning of a word, and as a result might change the entire meaning of a sentence or story. We deal with homophones all the time, for many of our English words sound alike. And perhaps because of the identical way they sound, writers can trip up and use the wrong word. Then again, some writers just might not realize they are spelling their desired word wrong.

I often see there, they’re, and their mixed up. That’s fairly common. I shouldn’t need to explain what each means. One pair of words I also see confused are led and lead. Since the word lead can, in one application, be pronounced the same as led, many writers write lines like this:

  • He lead the dog home.
  • I lead a group on the field trip yesterday.

Another two words often confused are born and borne. Born has to do with birth, and borne means carried, or can be used to mean impressed. For example:

  • I was born yesterday.
  • I was borne by a tornado and deposited in a tree.
  • It was borne upon them to vote quickly.
  • He is a born optimist.

Then we have apprise and appraise. Simply put,  apprise means to inform and appraise means to assess the value of.

Here are just a few more to ponder:

  • Aid [meaning help] and aide [someone who assists or helps]
  • Lightening [making something lighter] and lightning [that streak in the sky]
  • Lose [as in lost] and loose [the opposite of tight]
Although these have a two-letter difference, taut and taught are worth noting since I also see them frequently confused. If something is tied tight, it is taut.
I hope I’ve taught you well.


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  1. These are always helpful.

    In this one, I don’t think he lead etc is correct.
    Shouldn’t it always be He led the dog home.

    lead also means a metal Yes, the English language can be confusing. Thanks, Beth

  2. Reading your post made me think about something that I’ve never thought about before. Do other languages have homophones, or is it only in the English language? I only speak English, and it can be a confusing language in more ways than this. Thanks for your article. You taught us well! 🙂

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