A homonym is one of two or more words with the same pronunciation, and the same spelling, but different meanings.
For example, the word “bank,” is a homonym, as in:
“The campground is on the bank of the river.” (That is, the side of the river.)
“Our savings account is at the bank.” (That is, where you put your money.)
Homophones are words that have similar pronunciations, but different spellings and meanings, such as:
“There is a baseball game tomorrow.” (In this context, signifying an event an event.)
“They’re the team to beat.” (In this context, “they are” the team to beat.)
“Their record is impressive.” (In this context, the team’s record is impressive.
Some things you might not know about homonyms and homophones include:
They are easily misused.
People often write and edit by sound. It’s not unusual to be talking to oneself when writing something. It’s always a good idea to read your document aloud when editing it.
People also often read by sound, mouthing the words if not actually reading them aloud.
With that in mind, and because homonyms and homophones have similar pronunciations, it’s easy to use the incorrect word. Here’s a homonym example:
Here’s a homophone example:
“Secretariat the horse runs at a strong gate.” (Gate is a point of entry through which you enter or exit an enclosed area.)
The correct usage is:
“Secretariat the horse runs at a strong gait.” (Gait means a manner of running or walking.)
When checking homonyms and homophones, spell check isn’t always your friend.
Reading your draft aloud—or at least to yourself—is a good start when checking homonyms. Using spell check is another, but be warned: spell check doesn’t always check for context.
In another example, “Tales from the Emperor’s Kitchen” refers to stories. Meanwhile, “Tails from the Emperor’s Kitchen” means tails that you might find on mice or other unwelcome rodents that you don’t want in a kitchen.
You may need to look up a word to ensure its correct usage. Take a moment to do so and confirm. Otherwise, you might put yourself in some embarrassing situations.