33 homophones that ensnare writers and speakers

A scene from the science fiction parody ‘Galaxy Quest’ offers a jumping off point to understanding these tricky word pairs that sound similar, but mean different things.


“Galaxy Quest,” in case you haven’t seen it, is a science fiction parody about a group of actors who get caught up in a very real intergalactic battle between forces of good and evil. The movie is filled with pithy one-liners, clever word play, and even a lesson on homophones.

A homophone (or homonym) is a word that is pronounced the same as another, but means something entirely different. Take, for instance, one scene from “Galaxy Quest” in which the crew visits a strange planet in search of a beryllium sphere they need to repair their ship. They encounter a band of tiny, childlike aliens who appear to be mining the planet’s beryllium.

The dialogue is as follows:

Alexander: “Could they be the miners?”
Fred: “Sure. They’re like three years old.” (Everyone looks at Fred.)
Alexander: “Miners, not minors.”
Fred: “You lost me.”

Here are some other homophones—some come in threes—that cause confusion in this and other galaxies. (Click on the words for the definitions.)

aisle/isle

beer/bier

bridal/bridle

cache/cash

canvas/canvass

capitol/capital

chord/cord

clew/clue

complacent/complaisant

cue/queue

discrete/discreet

draft/draught

elicit/illicit

epic/epoch

fiance/fiancée

foreword/forward

gilt/guilt

immanent/imminent

incite/insight

lightening/lightning

marquee/marquis

marshal/martial

minor/miner

mucous/mucus

new/gnu/knew

oral/aural

palate/palette/pallet

principal/principle

prophesy/prophecy

rancor/ranker

sachet/sashay

stationary/stationery

vail/vale/veil

Readers, any other homophones to share?

Laura Hale Brockway an Austin-based writer and editor and is the author of the grammar/usage/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.

(Image via)

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