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Tips for Handling Homophones


English is a tricky language to learn and one of the things that makes it so difficult is that it’s full of words that sound the same but have different meanings or spellings. These words are called homophones.

In the past, we’ve looked at many pairs and groups of homophones in our Commonly Confused Words series. This week we’re sharing tips for handling homophones – scroll down to make sure you never mix up your meanings again!

  • Use homophones in the same sentence to show their different meanings.

    For example:

    • Although we had a ball dancing the night away at the summer ball, we were so tired the next day we had to miss our football practice.

    • My grandmother didn’t have a will and after her death we had to broach the difficult subject of who would inherit her valuable brooch collection.

  • For words that sound the same but are spelt differently, pronounce each word phonetically.

    For example:

    • Emphasise the ‘e’ sound in ‘counsel’ and the ‘i’ sound in ‘council’.

    • Emphasise the ‘a’ sound in ‘affect’ and the ‘e’ sound in ‘effect’.

    • Pronounce the silent ‘b’ in ‘plumb’ and compare it to the lack of ‘b’ in ‘plum’.

You can then come up with mnemonics to help you connect the different spellings to their meanings.

For example:

    • The ‘el’ sound in a phonetic pronunciation of ‘counsel’ also appears in ‘help’.

    • The ‘i’ sound in a phonetic pronunciation of ‘council’ also appears in ‘city’.

    • The ‘a’ sound in a phonetic pronunciation of ‘affect’ also appears in ‘action’.

    • The ‘e’ sound in a phonetic pronunciation of ‘effect’ also appears in ‘end result’.

  • Look up the etymology of the words you are learning to spell.

    Knowing the root of a word can often help prompt you to remember a more unusual spelling.

    For example:

    • The word ‘plumber’ comes from the Latin ‘plumbum’ which means ‘lead (the metal), lead ball; pipe’. This might help you remember the silent ‘b’ in ‘plumb’ (which doesn’t appear in ‘plum’, the word we use to describe the stoned fruit).

    • Both the words ‘heal’ and ‘healthy’ come from the Old English ‘hælan’ which means ‘cure; save; make whole, sound and well’. This might help you remember that ‘heal’ is spelt with an ‘ea’ (and not ‘ee’ like in ‘heel’, the word we use to describe the back part of the foot).

  • Use visual aids to help you remember the meanings of different homophones.

    For example:

    • Draw a woman in a ball gown kicking a football.

    • Draw three witches with a question mark above to ask the question ‘which witch?’

    • Draw a reindeer in the rain. Perhaps even add a crown between its antlers to show that it’s a reigning reindeer in the rain.

If you want to practise with homophones, why not check out our word lists? If you’re feeling brave, you can even try out our Which Witch game.

Have a good week!


07 Mar 2017
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