It’s been said that English is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn because it has so many exceptions to its own rules. One problem students of English as a second language face are homophones – words that sound alike but have entirely different meanings. Another common problem is single words that can be pronounced differently depending on the context of the sentence. Some of these words sound more or less alike depending on the accent of the native speaker.
The following are some examples of common troublemakers. For best results, read these through several times, and then try to identify examples of their usage in the real world. For example, pick up an English language book you’re working through and see if you can identify some of these homophones in action.
Red: the color vs. Read: to have read a book – Read: to be reading a book vs. Reed: a plant
For example: John said he read the red book, but he still needed to read the book on reeds.
Blue: the color or emotion – Blew: the past tense of the verb to blow
For example: John was feeling blue when he blew out the blue candles on his birthday cake (blue as an emotion refers to a feeling of sadness or mild depression.)
Meet: to encounter a person – Meat: flesh of animals consumed for food
For example: John wanted to meet me at the meat counter of the grocery store.
Poor: lacking money or an adjective – Pour: as to pour a liquid from a container – Pore: a small opening in the skin
For example: Poor John. He wanted to pour lemon juice on his skin to tighten his pores, but he was too poor to afford it.
Right: to be correct, or the direction opposite left – Write: to compose or transcribe words using pen and paper
For example: John was right – the best table to write at was on the right side of the library.
Kitty: a small cat or kitten – Kitty: a group of funds pooled together
For example: John’s kitty wanted to play poker, but it had no money to ante up for the kitty.
Weeding: to remove weeds – Wedding: a marriage ceremony
For example: John finished weeding the garden with plenty of time before the wedding was to begin.
Desert: an arid environment – Dessert: a sweet dish or pastry often served at the end of a meal
For example: Lost in the desert, John could only dream of the ice cream he had had for dessert.
They’re: a contraction of the words they are – There: a location – Their: a possessive pronoun
For example: They’re sure they left their car over there by the big oak tree.
To: the preposition – Two: the number 2 – Too: meaning also or an adverb meaning excessively
For example: John wanted to go to the movies with his two brothers too but he was too tired.
As you can see, although many of these word combinations can be tricky, they’re often spelled differently. Use these clues to help determine which word to use in any given situation