Commonly Confused Words (Air, Ere, and Heir)

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These three words sound the same but have different meanings.

The noun air refers to the invisible mixture of gases that people and animals breathe. Air can also mean empty space, the outward appearance of a thing, the bearing of a person, and (usually in the plural, airs) an artificial or affected manner.

As a verb, air means to expose (something) to the air, to make known in public, or to transmit by radio or television.

(Also see the usage notes below.)

The preposition and conjunction ere is a somewhat old-fashioned word meaning "before."

The noun heir refers to a person who has the legal right to inherit property or to a person who has a right to claim a title (such as king or queen) when the person holding it dies.

Examples

  • "The giggles hung in the air like melting clouds that were waiting to rain on me."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)
  • "I'm not the type to air my problems in public or to wear my heart on my sleeve. But recently I have been confronted with a problem. I would like to discuss it with you, my friends."
    (Dick Hyson, The Calling, 1998)
  • "Fair Mexican maidens play guitars and sing,
    A song about Billy, their boy bandit king;
    How, ere his young manhood had reached its sad end,
    Had a notch on his pistol for twenty-one men."
    ("The Ballad of Billy the Kid," 1881)
  • "A week before my wedding-day, while I was still swimming in bliss and the nobility were gathering from far and near to honor our espousals, came news of my uncle's death, and also a copy of his will, making me his sole heir."
    (Mark Twain, "The Canvasser's Tale," 1876)
  • "Now, why should the whale thus insist upon having his spoutings out, unless it be to replenish his reservoir of air, ere descending for good?"
    (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851)
  • "She dabbed a kerchief to her lips and the scent of lavender wafted on the air. 'I shall not come in with you, Hester. Your grandfather is eager to talk to you and his heir."
    (Anne Herries, The Unknown Heir. Harlequin, 2008)

    Usage Notes

    • "As you doubtless know, air is the compound gas that pervades Earth's atmosphere and which all animals breathe in order to maintain life. However, the word can also refer to the general appearance of a person: 'He had the air of being very bored.' It is also a tune or melody: 'She sang the air like an angel.' As a verb, air can also mean the activity of bringing something up for discussion: 'Could I air a long-standing grievance?' If you appear in a radio programme, you can be said to be on the air. Thus air is a homonym of its own.

      "It also sounds like ere, a preposition meaning 'before' (I was up ere dawn) and e'er which is a contraction of 'ever.' The word are does not normally sound at all like air ('We are tired tonight'), but it also means 1/100th of a hectare, and with this meaning its pronunciation alters. An heir is someone who is due to inherit something (Prince Charles is heir to the throne), and since the 'h' is silent, the word does sound like air. The word err, however, is not a true homophone of air, but is mispronounced by such a massive majority of the population that it would have been invidious to have omitted it. It is, of course, a verb and rather appropriately means to make a mistake ('I tend to err when in a hurry')."
      (David Rothwell, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Homonyms. Wordsworth, 2007)
    • A Record-Setting Group of Homophones
      "Are (metric land measure) and eyre (English itinerant judge) make the air/ere/err/heir cluster the most homophonous of all, especially if we add the proper names Ayer and Eyre."
      (Richard Lederer, The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book. Merriam-Webster, 1998)

    Practice

    • "Previously she had been able to _____ her frustrations with a close friend, but this avenue is closed because the friend has become ill." (Akiko Hashimoto, The Gift of Generations, 1996)
    • "According to legend, the true _____ to the throne must be a child born holding in his tiny hands the seeds of millet, squash, or other plants indigenous to Ruanda--an indication from their god, Imana, that he was destined to rule." (Rosamond Halsey Carr with Ann Howard Halsey, Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda, 2000)
    • "[Wilbur] gave a jump in the _____, twirled, ran a few steps, stopped, looked all around, sniffed the smells of afternoon, and then set off walking down through the orchard." (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, 1952)
    • "'The nitre!' I said; 'see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back _____ it is too late. Your cough--.'" (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado," 1846)

    Answers

    • "Previously she had been able to air her frustrations with a close friend, but this avenue is closed because the friend has become ill." (Akiko Hashimoto, The Gift of Generations, 1996)
    • "According to legend, the true heir to the throne must be a child born holding in his tiny hands the seeds of millet, squash, or other plants indigenous to Ruanda--an indication from their god, Imana, that he was destined to rule." (Rosamond Halsey Carr with Ann Howard Halsey, Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda, 2000)
    • "[Wilbur] gave a jump in the air, twirled, ran a few steps, stopped, looked all around, sniffed the smells of the afternoon, and then set off walking down through the orchard." (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web, 1952)
    • "'The nitre!' I said; 'see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough--.'" (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado," 1846)
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words (Air, Ere, and Heir)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2018, thoughtco.com/air-ere-and-heir-1689294. Nordquist, Richard. (2018, April 19). Commonly Confused Words (Air, Ere, and Heir). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/air-ere-and-heir-1689294 Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words (Air, Ere, and Heir)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/air-ere-and-heir-1689294 (accessed May 22, 2018).