These homophones give me such a headache

Rein and reign

Rein and reign

Here on the blog, we have talked about your and you’re, its and it’s, there and their. We have discussed idioms, pleonasms, and how to boost your vocabulary.

There are those word partners or groups – the homophones – that can be a royal pain in the butt. (You will see the brilliant pun on “royal pain in the butt” in just a moment.)

Let’s get the problem children out of the way. Affect and effect. Grrr….

Affect – Can be a noun or a verb. Groan. Webster’s explanation of affect.

Effect – Can be a noun or a verb. Groan. Webster’s explanation of effect.

If I feel an itchy desire to use one of these two words, I usually pick another word.

Rein and Reign –

Rein – It’s on a horse, you rein somebody in when they are getting stupid in a bar and you know they are being stupid enough to get their lights punched out.

Reign – It’s what The Queen does – she reigns. Also useful when you say, “That cute little chinchilla reigns the household.” “The dragon reigns over the Welsh countryside.”

Break and Brake –

Break – As in give me a break, break it in half, or break a leg.

If your driver’s ed teacher is yelling, “Give me a break!” he probably means brake. And we’ve all seen the bumper stickers, “I brake for idiots.”

Aisle and Isle –

Aisle – It’s something you walk along when you are getting married or when you are shopping at the grocery or Wal-Mart. In Wal-Mart, when you get stuck in an aisle by inconsiderate aisle-hoggers, you’ll probably wish you were on an…

Isle – Preferably in the South Pacific, not close to hurricane season.

Passed and Past –

Passed – I just passed a cop doing 125 miles an hour! I just passed the bar! (Good thing if you just passed a cop doing 125 mph.)

Past – Your past will come back to haunt you, especially if you are trying to get car insurance. What happens in the past, stays in the past. Until you try to get a job.

Lose and Loose – Gawd, I hate these two.

Lose – You lose your money in the stock market, you lose your money in Vegas at the slots. You can lose ground, lose sight of, and lose your mind. You can also lose your way. Like in this article.

Loose – M. C. Hammer wore loose pants. You can be of loose morality (if you fit this category, please write me). You can have loose bodily functions. Ew. So, if you are at loose ends – let loose, be fast and loose.

Sole and Soul –

Sole – It’s on the bottom of your shoe (no, not the gum or the dog poopie). It’s also a fish. It is also the bottom of a golf club (hey, just learned that one). You can be the sole beneficiary – now that’s what I’m talking about!

Soul – This is what James Brown had. Aretha has it. You hope your soul goes to Heaven. Your heart and soul.

Precede and Proceed –

Precede – This is what comes first or before. Husband #1 preceded Husband #2. Divorce #3 preceded total bliss and independence.

Proceed – If you want to get past that aisle-hogging woman, say, “Proceed, please!” If you are telling a great story and someone interrupts, you might say, “May I proceed, please?”

Assure, Ensure, Insure – Geez, oh man. Here’s another bunch I don’t care for.

Assure – Give confidence to, to make certain or convince, to guarantee. I assure you that I really did look up all these words.

Ensure – It’s a lot like assure – to make sure, certain, or safe. Also a yummy shake for oldsters like me!

Insure – This is what you want to do if you live in a flood plain. Insure your belongings. Insure your car.

Plane and Plain –

Plane – You pay through the nose, you get felt up, you wait in a bunch of lines, you get delayed because of engine problems, and you get on a plane to go see your relatives.

Plain – North Dakota plains, the plain truth, in plain sight, as plain as the nose on your face.

What words do you have an ongoing, contentious relationship with? What words send you to the dictionary time and again?

“Geez oh man.”  -Paul Billyk

“Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.” -Mark Amidon

Paying it forward to five fabulous people –

Tonia Marie Houston

Nelly Hernandez Photography

Duncan Long

Chris Eboch

Shawn MacKenzie

Resources –

Webster’s Dictionary

Quote Garden

Morgue File



Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Words & Vocabulary

10 responses to “These homophones give me such a headache

  1. Most excellent, as always!
    How about bare/bear; born/borne; hoard/horde; and bail/bale?

  2. S. Lubin

    A number of these are not homonyms–they’re only homonyms if they’re pronounced exactly the same way. Lose has a z sound–loose an s. Ensure and insure start with a different vowel sound, and assure doesn’t even have an N sound in it. Precede and proceed are also not homonyms. But the explanations are cute!

  3. Educational and fun, way to go, Karen! Now, where’s that durned Excederin? 🙂

  4. Very helpful thanks! Too and to always gets me.

  5. There are hundreds of them. S. Lubin – you are absolutely right – they are not all homophones…heterographs, homographs, heteronyms. As far as editing goes, I’ve seen one or the other of these substituted for the “correct” word. I should have edited the title – These “words” give me a headache. It was fun to write either way. Thanks all for stopping in!

  6. When I type fast to get a passage out of my brain, this is one of my biggest problems. It’s not that I don’t know which one to use, but there is some kind of short circuit that happens in hearing the words in my head and getting the right one out. And spell check doesn’t care. Sigh. Thanks for the post.

  7. Heather, I agree! And I sometimes, in a rush, type ‘of’ for ‘or’ or ‘to’ for ‘too’ et al.

  8. Hi Karen,
    Great post! I have 2 favorite peeves: it’s and its, and lie and lay. They trip me up every time, and I go scrambling for my grammar book. Pass me an aspirin.


  9. Nancy…about lay and lie…my mother said something to me 40+ years ago that I still remember … chickens LAY eggs. People do not. 🙂

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