Jun 18, 2014

Confusions are often created by homophones – those words which sound the same although they are in fact completely different words often with different spellings. Some common examples are bear/bare, role/roll, pole/poll.

Some that are mixed up at the moment are:

  • hone in on for home in on

Perhaps we see ourselves as whittling away at a stick until we get to the fine point.

  • reign for rein as in we must reign in spending

Perhaps so few of us have any experience of riding a horse these days that we shy away from reins as unfamiliar to us.

  • diffuse for defuse

Too many of us are diffusing situations rather than defusing them. Perhaps we think along the lines that something that is diffused is not strong any more.

Then there are words that are not homophones but very close and end up muddled. Some of them are old problems that appear to be entrenched, such as flaunt for flout. We flaunt our wealth. We flout the law. It seems that we are now likely to flaunt the law. This is a problem caused by flout becoming a low-frequency word.

Another example is reticent for reluctant, as in I am reticent to do that. There is an overlap of meaning in these words but now we seem to be avoiding reluctant which I would have thought was a common enough word and favouring reticent.

Too many of these and your head begins to swim!

Which words do you always get mixed up? Tell us in the comments below.

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Craig - Sept. 13, 2014, 12:19 p.m.

My favourite is raise/raze. "The shop was razed to the ground" sounds as if it started as a basement.

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anthony - Aug. 18, 2015, 5:04 p.m.

what about those that have the same spelling and different
pronunciations eg invalid invalid?

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Macquarie Dictionary Admin - Aug. 18, 2015, 5:58 p.m.

Words like invalid and invalid are homographs – the same spelling but different words.

Homographs can be pronounced differently (as in invalid and invalid), or they can be pronounced the same (as in fair – just or unbiased, and fair – a carnival or fete).

Hope this helps!

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Felicity - Aug. 20, 2015, 9:36 a.m.

faze and phase

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