Track vs.Tract: How to Choose the Right Word

Nearly Homophones With Little in Common Otherwise

track and tract
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The words "track" and "tract" are near homophones: They sound similar but have different meanings. The only difference in pronunciation is that "tract" includes the "t" sound at the very end.

"Track" can be either a noun or a verb, whereas "tract" is a noun with several different meanings. Both are common in spoken and written English, so it's important to understand how to correctly use each.

How to Use "Track"

The word "track" can be used as a noun or a verb, and the meaning changes radically, depending on its usage.

As a noun, "track" means a literal or figurative path, route, or course. A common use of the word "track" relates to a running track; a related use of the word is in the expression "track and field," meaning athletic endeavors related to running, jumping, shot put, and discus throwing. The noun "track" also refers to a mark left on the floor or ground by a person, animal, or vehicle. 

As a verb, "track" means to travel, pursue, or follow: One can "track" an animal by following its "tracks." One can also "track" information or "keep track" of events, finances, or the movements of people, animals, or vehicles.

How to Use "Tract"

The noun "tract" has a number of distinct meanings. A "tract" can be an expanse of land or water, a housing development, or a pamphlet containing a declaration, appeal, or religious message. The word "tract" also refers to certain systems of organs and tissues in the body: the digestive tract, the intestinal tract, the respiratory tract, and the urinary tract.

Examples

The following examples represent the use of the word "track" in all of its meanings. In the first sentence, the word is used as a noun and means a path or route. In the second, the word is used as a noun meaning to pursue or follow, and in the third, "track" is used as a noun meaning the marks left by an animal.

  1. The volunteers cleared the track through the woods, making it safe for hikers.
  2. The police tracked the car and found that it had been stolen.
  3. Roger found a coyote track in the backyard and kept his dog safely inside.

The examples below use the word "tract" in its various meanings. In the first sentence, "tract" is used to mean a system of organs and tissues. In the second sentence, a "tract" is a political declaration. In the third sentence, it refers to a large expanse of land.

  1. The diver reached between the jaws of the shark to dislodge a grappling hook that was stuck in the animal's digestive tract.
  2. In 1774, Thomas Jefferson wrote his first tract on politics, a set of instructions for the Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress.
  3. The large tracts of land available for development were once farmers' fields.

How to Remember the Difference

The word "track" is much more commonly used than "tract," and it is generally used to either describe a running track or the process of tracking a person or animals. The expression "keep track of" is also very common and is usually used when discussing either information management, as in "I'm trying to keep track of all these invoices," or management of children or animals, as in "It's hard to keep track of my kids' many activities."

The word "tract" is more often used in legal documents regarding purchase or sale of land, in religious contexts (a religious tract), or in medical settings (a blocked digestive tract). It is rarely used in casual conversation.

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