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Common Homonyms in English(meaning & examples)

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Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Check out the list below — the following scenarios are the most commonly used cases; but as is quite common in English, there are always exceptions!

1. affect/effect

Use affect to indicate influence: The medicine did not affect her the way the doctor had hoped.

Use effect as a noun: The new medicine had negative side effects. (Note: effect can sometimes be used as a verb meaning to cause/achieve or to bring about – as in “The magician effected his escape with a false door” – but this is mostly a technical term and not used very often.)

2. than/then

Use than for comparisons: John is much taller than his brother.

Use then to indicate the passage of time, or when: We went to the park in the morning, and then we left to pick up lunch.

3. Which/Witch

Use which as a pronoun when referring to things or animals:  Cora wore her favorite pink shoes, which she received as a birthday gift.

Use witch to mean a scary or nasty person: The Halloween witch decorations must finally come down off of the wall!

4. here/hear

Use here as an adverb to indicate location:  Please come back here and put your shoes away!

Use hear as a verb to indicate listening:  Can you hear the birds’ beautiful singing outside?

5. are/our

Are is a verb in the present tense, a form of the verb “to be.”

We are staying at the hotel closest to the stadium.

They are my cousins.

Our is an adjective, the plural possessive form of we.

They will bring our keys to the hotel lobby.

The pleasure is all ours.

6. buy/by

Use buy when purchasing an item: I do need to buy new shoes for the kids.

Use by as a preposition to indicate location: Please put the sandwiches by the door so we don’t forget them! 

7. accept/except

Use accept as a verb to mean receive: The organization will accept donations through the first of the month.

Use except as a preposition to mean exclude:  You may donate all items except car seats and cribs.

8. weather/whether

Use weather when referring to the state of the atmosphere: The constantly changing springtime weather is driving us crazy.

Use whether as a conjunction to introduce choices: Please tell us whether you would prefer steak or salmon for dinner.

9. there/their/they’re

There can act as different parts of speech, depending on how it is used in a sentence. Most commonly, it is used as a pronoun or adverb.

There will be a lot to eat at the party tonight.  (pronoun)

Put the book over there.  (adverb)

Their is a pronoun.

The students put their coats in the closet.

they’re is the contraction for they are

They’re going to have practice immediately after school today.

10. to/too/two

To can be a preposition.

We’re going to the park.

To can indicate an infinitive when it precedes a verb.

We want to help in any way we can.

Too is an adverb that can mean excessively when it precedes an adjective or adverb.

I ate too much ice cream for dessert.

Too is a synonym for also.

I ate too much ice cream for dessert, too.

Two is a number. 

Marcy ate two pieces of pie.

I have two books I’d like to read.

11. you’ re/ your

You’re is a contraction for you are.

You’re going to love this new recipe.

Your is a pronoun.

Please bring your books to class with you tomorrow.

12. bear/ bare

Use bear when referring to the large mammal or to indicate the act of holding or supporting: How did that brown bear open the security gate at the campsite? |  The wagon can hardly bear the weight of the load.

Use bare as an adjective indicating lack of clothing or adornment:  His bare neck burned in the direct sunlight.

13. one/won

Use one when referring to a single unit or thing:  I have one more muffin left before the box is empty.

Use won as the past tense form of the verb “to win”: Shelly’s team won the tournament and celebrated with ice-cream sundaes!

 

14. brake/break

Use brake as a verb meaning to stop or as a noun when referring to a device used to stop or slow motion:  The bike’s brake failed, which is why he toppled down the hill.

Use break to indicate smashing or shattering or to take a recess:  My back will break if we put one more thing in this backpack.  OR Use break as a noun to indicate a rest or pause: We took a water break after our first set of drills because it was so hot outside.

 

15. complement/compliment

Use complement when referring to something that enhances or completes: The cranberry sauce is a perfect complement to the turkey dinner.

Use compliment as an expression of praise: I was pleased to have received so many compliments on my new dress and shoes today.

16. aloud/allowed

Use aloud when referring to something said out loud:  Reading aloud –and doing it well–is a skill that requires much practice.

Use allowed when referring to something permitted:  Dogs are not allowed to be on school property between 2:45-4 pm.

17. lie/lay

Use lie to indicate the act of reclining:  I am tired just watching the dog lie in the warm sunlight.

Use lay to indicate the placement of something:  Please lay the paper on the table.  

Lay is a transitive verb, which means it always needs an object! Something is always being put down; lie, on the other hand, will never have an object because it is an intransitive verb.

Hint:

to lie: lie(s), lay, lain, lying

to lay: lay(s), laid, laid, laying

18. it’s/its

It’s is the contraction for it is.

It’s raining today, so the baseball game will be canceled.

Its is the possessive form (“possessive” means belongs to) of it.

The cat is licking its paws.

19. capital/capitol

Use capital when referring to a city, a wealth or resources, or an uppercase letter: The capital of Maryland is the gorgeous city of Annapolis. 

Use capitol when referring to a building where lawmakers meet: The capitol has undergone extensive renovations this year.

20. principle/principal

Use principle as a noun meaning a basic truth or law: Many important life principles are learned in kindergarten.

Use principal as a noun meaning the head of a school or organization, or a sum of money: The principal is a well-respected member of the community because of the hard work and effort she puts forth in her position.

Watch the video below to learn more about Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs: 
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