In case you might have forgotten learning this in school, “homonyms” are words that are spelled the same and/or similar to other words, and sound the same (or almost the same) when spoken; but have a completely different meaning. If you don’t get your homonyms right, you are likely to cause confusion. Misuse of homonyms can also make you look very silly in certain situations.
For example, let’s look at a few common homonyms and see how their misuse could cause confusion:
assent (agree) vs. ascent (climb)
We need your assent on this disclaimer form before you begin your ascent up the mountain.
elicit (to draw out, evoke response) vs. illicit (illegal, unlawful)
The police were trying to elicit information from witnesses as to the location of the illicit drugs.
faze (disconcerted, perturbed, upset) vs. phase (stage in process)
He wasn’t fazed during the final phase of the competition.
lose (to be deprived of) vs. loose (not restrained, not tight, not attached to anything)
You are sure to lose the race if the chain on your bike is too loose.
[Sidebar: I see these two terms confused on a regular basis].
ordinance (lay, order, decree) vs. ordnance (military weapons)
The government issued an ordinance regarding the use of ordnances during the armistice parade.
As you can see from the above, if you switched the places of the homonyms in any of the sample sentences, the phrase would become meaningless and/or ridiculous.
For example, looking at the last sample sentence; can you imagine the government issuing weapons and explosives to deal with regulations governing the armistice parade? Doesn’t make sense right? But since the two words are almost the same, you have to be careful to not mix them up. In some cases, it is quite easy to unintentionally completely change the meaning of something, or render it completely unintelligible.
On my website I have posted a list of 50 or so of the more common homonym pairs with definitions. You are welcome to check them out at the following link:
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