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Top Ten Unusual Homophonic Blunders

October 1, 2011




Probably the most common editing mistake that slips through, homophones are words that sound like another word. We all know the common lists of homophones to watch out for: its/it's, your/you're, to/two/too, there/their. These are the most common mistakes and it is unnerving because even though we all know them, we still miss them!


But, in editing and reading other people's works I have found quite a few less-common homophones that you should watch out for. You see, with the words above because everyone is familiar with them, even other readers may overlook them. (Not that it makes it o.k. to miss them!) With the following list, it can cause great confusion if you use the wrong word!


1. Bolder/Boulder

This confusion on your part can add to a great deal of confusion for your readers. Because a man becomes bolder when pressing his luck, but if he isn't careful a woman might hit him over the head with a boulder! (Although you could theoretically say that a man becomes a boulder when drunk, but usually you would expect that man to become bolder... yeah!)


2. Clench/Clinch 

This is a subtle one and most of you might not catch it, but it drives me crazy! You clench your fists, but clinch a deal. To clench (a verb) means to grasp tightly. It can also be used as a noun when describing a medical condition in which a part of the body becomes tightened or as a type of knot. But a clinch as a noun is a scuffle in close quarters or an amorous embrace. As a verb it means to confirm, settle or conclude an arrangement, or to fasten.


So if you mixed them up you would be grabbing your deal tightly ( not concluding it) and you would be fastening your hands.... hmmm... nope, doesn't work. All because of one silly little letter difference!




3. Bare/Bear/Bair

As in bare naked, grizzly bear and the last name Bair. I love it when someone writes 'I want to bear my soul to him, but I don't know how.' Well, I could totally understand how that would be difficult! Bare means to lay out, to expose, to present. Whereas bear is a noun for a large mammal that tends to be incredibly violent! I had a friend in high school with the last name Bair and she was always frustrated by the variety of different spellings that would come about.


4. Dessert/Desert

One you eat, one will probably eat you! A dessert is a usually sweet dish served at the end of a meal. A desert is a hot, arid land with very little water, vegetation or life.  (Also often frequented by small poisonous critter such as snakes, scorpions... you get the idea!)


5. Eave/eve

The eave is a part of a roof. Eve is a time of night (right as the sun is going down). If I said "Yester eave was dark and dingy. You would have to wonder who is Yester and why doesn't he clean them?


6. Faille/File/Phial

Faille is a type of slightly ribbed woven material.

A file has many meanings. It could be a steal object with edges used to produce a smooth surface (such as a nail file, or for filing the bars of a prison.) It also could refer to a collection of documents that are grouped together because of a common link ( such as computer files, lawyers files, library files) and last but not least, it could mean a single line ( everyone filed out of the room). Where as a phial is an Old-English version of vial. It is a small container used to hold a liquid.


7. Gamble/ Gambol

Big difference in such a small word! I could gamble my life away, but it would be more fun to gambol my life away! Gamble is to make a wager. (so if I gambled my life away, I would be making wagers that would endanger my life) Whereas gamboling means to leap about playfully. Often used to describe young animals. Yeah, I would much rather leap about playfully for the rest of my life!


8. Medal/ Meddle/ Metal/Mettle

You win a medal, you cause trouble when you meddle. Metal is a physical substance with generally shiny property that is often stronger than the other elements. Mettle is an insubstantial demonstration of a person's emotional strength. So if you said someone really showed their medal, it would confuse the reader. What did he win? If you wrote that the mettle was very hard... the insubstantial demonstration of resolve was hard? You bet!!



9. Pail/Pale

One is a physical object and the other is a shade! But, I read in a published book "she pailed at the sight of the wound." No, she did not turn into a usually cylindrical bucket with a handle used for hauling things. I suppose if this were a fantasy, she might turn into a pail to catch the blood? Yeah... no. what the author meant was that she paled, as in her face became a lighter shade due to the blood running out of her face.  (Little random note, this book was not a self-published work. It had the privilege of agent and editors. I was surprised to see such a blatant error!)



10. Sale/ Sail

I honestly do not understand this one, but I see it so very often. It is simple. If you work as a merchant you will use the term sale any time someone buys something from you. If you work with boats you will use a sail to help gain momentum or you might sail out of port. Rarely should these two ever get mixed up! (Unless you were a merchant who had to sail to make your sales... yeah, because that is often the case!!) 


BONUS (because I saw this while... Facebooking, guilty!)



(Also, for the sake of my neurosis Sole/Soul, thanks to the ridiculous example!!)

Sorry, I recently read someone quoting Boondock Saints and had the prayer reading "And teaming with soles shall it ever be."


what they actually meant was "And teeming with souls."


because what they said was a number of persons forming on one side with the bottoms of shoes.( Can I just say "GO Football!!" Anyone?!?!?)


when the prayer actually means overflowing or swarming with insubstantial objects believed to be the spark of life. (Much more of a prayery-type thing to say, right?)


So, there are my top ten most annoying homophones plus a bonus! (at least this week.) If homophones make you nervous and you are not certain which version to use, check out this great list of homophones! It'll be sure to keep you strait or drown you more! (Yes, I did that on purpose folks!!)


What are some of your most annoying homophone blunders? Share in the comments below!


Until Next Time, 


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