200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

A List of Easily Confused Words With Practice Exercises

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A bare bear. GeoStock/Getty Images

Homonyms are two or more words that have the same sound or spelling but differ in meaning. Homophones—which means "same sounds" in Latin—are two or more words, such as knew and new or meat and meet, that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and often spelling. Homographs, meanwhile, are words that have the same spelling but differ in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation, such as the verb bear (to carry or endure) and the noun bear (the animal with a shaggy coat).

Words that fall under any of these three categories often confuse readers and writers alike. But they need not perplex you: Understanding the meaning of these three grammatical terms and, especially, being able to recognize them can help clear up any confusion. A list of some of the most common homonyms, homophones, and homographs can help any writer use these words correctly and any reader or listener recognize them when they occur.

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs 

Below is a listing of some the most common homonyms, homophones, and homographs. The first column contains homonyms in alphabetical order, while the second and third columns list the corresponding homonym, homophone, or homograph as applicable.

accept - take in

except - other than

ad - advertisement

add - join, combine

advice - guidance

advise - recommend

aid - assist, assistance

aide - one who gives assistance

ail - to suffer poor health

ale - a beverage

air - atmosphere

ere - before

heir - one who inherits property

aisle - a passage

I'll - contraction of I will

isle - island

allusion - an indirect reference

illusion - false appearance

altar - table in a church

alter - to change

ate - past tense of eat

eight - the number 8

bail - to clear water

bail - release of a prisoner

bale - a large bundle

band - a ring, something that binds

band - a group

banned - prohibited

bare - uncovered

bear - large animal

bear - support, yield

bases - starting points

bases - four stations on a baseball field

basis - a basic principle

beat - to strike, overcome

beat - exhausted

beet - a plant with red roots

blew - past tense of blow

blue - the color

bread - baked food item

bred - produced

buy - purchase

by - near, through

bye - goodbye

capital - punishable by death

capital - chief city

capitol - building where legislature meets

ceiling - top of a room

sealing - setting, fastening

cell - compartment

sell - vend

cent - penny coin

scent - an odor

sent - past tense of send

cereal - breakfast food

serial - sequential

chews - gnaws with teeth

choose - to select

Chile- country in South America

chili - bean stew

chilly - frosty

chord - musical tone

cord - rope

cite - quote

site - location

sight - view

close - opposite of open

clothes - clothing

coarse - rough

course - path, procedure

complement – enhance; go together

compliment - praise

conduct - behavior

conduct - to lead

council - committee

counsel - guidance

creak - squeak

creek - stream of water

crews - gangs

cruise - ride on a boat

days - plural of day

daze - stun

dear - darling

deer- woodland animal

desert - to abandon

desert - dry land

dessert - after-dinner treat

dew - morning mist

do - operate

due - payable

die - cease to exist

dye - color

discreet - tactful

discrete - distinct

doe - female dear

dough - uncooked bread

dual - double

duel - battle

elicit - draw out

illicit - illegal

eminent - distinguished

imminent - soon

ewe - female sheep

you - second-person personal pronoun

eye - sight organ

I - first-person personal pronoun

facts - true things

fax - a document transmitted via telephone

fair - equal

fare - price

fairy - elflike creature with wings

ferry - boat

faze - impact

phase - stage

feat - achievement

feet - plural of foot

find - to discover

fined - charged a penalty

fir - type of tree

fur - animal hair

flea - small biting insect

flee - run

flew - did fly

flu - illness

flour - powdery, ground up grain

flower - blooming plant

for - on behalf of

fore - front

four - three plus one

forth - onward

fourth - number four

foreword - introduction to a book

forward - advancing

gene - a chromosome

jean - fabric; pants

gorilla - big ape

guerrilla - warrior

grease - fat

Greece - country in Europe

groan - moan

grown - form of grow

hair - head covering

hare - rabbit-like animal

hall - passageway

haul - tow

halve - cut in two parts

have - possess

hay - animal food

hey - interjection to get attention

heal - mend

heel - back of foot

hear - to listen

here - at this place

hi - hello

high - up far

hoarse - croaky

horse - riding animal

hole - opening

whole - entire

holey - full of holes

holy - divine

wholly - entirely

hoarse - rough voice

horse - animal

hour - sixty minutes

our - belonging to us

knead - massage

need - desire

knew - did know

new - not old

knight - feudal horseman

night - evening

knot - tied rope

not - negative

know - have knowledge

no - opposite of yes

lead - metal

led - was the leader

leased - past tense of lease

least - the minimum

lessen - make smaller

lesson - class

loan - lend

lone - solitary

made - did make

maid - servant

mail - postage

male - opposite of female

marry - to wed

merry - very happy

meat - animal protein

meet - encounter

mince - to chop finely

mints - type of sweet

morning - a.m.

mourning - remember the dead

none - not any

nun - woman who takes special vows

oar - boat paddle

or - otherwise

ore - mineral

oh - expression of surprise or awe

owe - be obligated

one - single

won - did win

overdo - do too much

overdue - past due date

pail - bucket

pale - not bright

pain - hurt

pane - window glass

peace - calm

piece - segment

peak – highest point

peek - glance

patience - being willing to wait

patients - person treated in a hospital or by a doctor

pear - a type of fruit

pair - two (usually matching)

plain - ordinary

plane - flight machine plane; flat surface

pole - post

poll - survey

poor - not rich

pour - make flow

pray - implore God

prey - quarry

principal - most important

principle - belief

rain – water from sky

rein - bridle

rap - tap

wrap - drape around

read - past tense of the verb to read

red - color

real - factual

reel - roll

right - correct; not left

write - scribble

ring - encircle

wring - squeeze

road - street

rode - past tense of ride

role - function

roll - rotate

rose - flower

rows - lines

sail - move by wind power

sale - bargain price

scene - landscape

seen - viewed

sea - ocean segment

see - observe with eyes

seam - joining edge

seem - appear

sew - connect with thread

so - as a result

sow - plant

soar - ascend

sore - hurt place

sole - single

soul - essence

son - male child

sun - the star that lights the solar system

some - a few

sum - amount

stair - step

stare - to look at steadily

steal - swipe

steel - alloy

suite - large room in a hotel

sweet - the opposite of sour

tail - animal’s appendage

tale - story

their - belonging to them

there - at that place

they’re - they are

threw - past tense of throw

through - passing from one place to another

to - toward

too - also

two - the number 2

toe - foot appendage

tow - pull along

vary - differ

very - wail - howl

wail - howl

whale - huge sea mammal

waist - area below ribs

waste - squander

wait – kill time

weight - measurable load

war - battle

wore - did wear

warn - caution

worn - used

way - path

weigh - measure mass

we - us

wee - tiny

weak - not strong

week - seven days

wear - to don attire

where - question word

weather - climate

whether - if

which - that

witch - sorcerer

wood - material coming from trees

would - conditional auxiliary

your - belonging to you

you’re - you are

Practice Using Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Complete each of the following sentences by filling in the blank with the correct word. You'll find the answers at the end of the exercise. To heighten interest, all of the sentences are quotes from various authors' writings in books and magazine articles published over the years. Feel free to use the previous table to help you if you get stumped.

  1. “He simply sat down on the ledge and forgot everything _____ [accept or except] the marvelous mystery.”
    - Lawrence Sargent Hall, "The Ledge." The Hudson Review, 1960
  2. "I live in the Oakland Hills in a tiny house on a street so windy you can’t drive more than ten miles per hour. I rented it because the _____ [ad or add] said this: 'Small house in the trees with a garden and a fireplace. Dogs welcome, of course.'"
    - Pam Houston, Waltzing the Cat. Washington Square Press, 1999
  3. "Francis wondered what _____ [advice or advise] a psychiatrist would have for him."
    - John Cheever, "The Country Husband." The New Yorker, 1955
  4. "The _____ [aid or aide] gets out of the way, picking her skirt out of the rubble of children at her feet."
    - Rosellen Brown, "How to Win." The Massachusetts Review, 1975
  5. "He seemed to want to recapture the cosseted feeling he'd had when he'd been sick as a child and she would serve him flat ginger _____ [ail or ale], and toast soaked in cream, and play endless card games with him, using his blanket-covered legs as a table."
    - Alice Elliott Dark, "In the Gloaming." The New Yorker, 1994
  1. "He sat down and leaned forward, pulling the chair's rear legs into the _____ [air, ere, or heir] so that the waitress could get by."
    - Stanley Elkins, "Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers." Perspective, 1962
  2. "[T]he stewardess was moving down the _____ [aisle, I'll, or isle], like a trained nurse taking temperatures in a hospital ward, to see that they were all properly strapped in for the take-off."
    - Martha Gellhorn, "Miami-New York." The Atlantic Monthly, 1948
  3. "Mrs. Parmenter laughed at his _____ [allusion or illusion] to their summer at Mrs. Sterrett's, in Rome, and gave him her coat to hold."
    - Willa Cather, "Double Birthday." Uncle Valentine and Other Stories, 1986
  4. "In the long years between, she had fashioned many fine dresses—gowned gay girls for their conquests and robed fair brides for the _____ [altar or alter]."
    - Mary Lerner, "Little Selves." The Atlantic Monthly, 1915
  5. "On a Saturday morning soon after he came to live with her, he turned over her garbage while she was at the grocery store and _____ [ate or eight] rancid bacon drippings out of a small Crisco can."
    - Pam Durban, "Soon." The Southern Review, 1997
  1. "The barn was bigger than a church, and the fall's fresh hay _____ [bails or bales] were stacked to the roof in the side mows.:
    - John Updike, My Father's Tears. Knopf, 2009
  2. "Her two spare dresses were gone, her comb was gone, her checkered coat was gone, and so was the mauve hair-_____ [band or banned] with a mauve bow that had been her hat."
    - Vladimir Nabokov, "'That in Aleppo Once . . .'" The Atlantic Monthly, 1944
  3. "Without the shelter of those trees, there is a great exposure—back yards, clotheslines, woodpiles, patchy sheds and barns and privies—all _____ [bare or bear], exposed, provisional looking."
    - Alice Munro, "Meneseteung." The New Yorker, 1989
  4. "This was the time when outfields were larger than they are today and well-hit balls would roll for a long time, giving runners ample time to round the _____ [bases or basis] for a home run."
    - Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney, It Takes More Than Balls. Skyhorse, 2008
  5. "The conductor had his knotted signal cord to pull, and the motorman _____ [beat or beet] the foot gong with his mad heel."
    - Saul Bellow, "A Silver Dish." The New Yorker, 1979
  1. "Nancy held the cup to her mouth and _____ [blew or blue] into the cup."
    - William Faulkner, "That Evening Sun Go Down." The American Mercury, 1931
  2. "A pigeon landed nearby. It hopped on its little red feet and pecked into something that might have been a dirty piece of stale _____ [bread or bred] or dried mud."
    - Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." A Friend of Kafka, 1979
  3. "He was wearing a new hat of a pretty biscuit shade, for it never occurred to him to _____ [buy, by, or bye] anything of a practical color; he had put it on for the first time and the rain was spoiling it."
    - Katherine Anne Porter, "Theft." The Gyroscope, 1930

Answers to the Exercise

1. except  2. ad  3. advice  4. aide  5. ale  6. air  7. aisle  8. allusion  9. altar  10. ate  11. bales  12. band  13. bare  14. bases  15. beat  16. blew  17. bread  18. buy