Beware of Homophones


Faithful readers of this blog know that I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to grammar/spelling errors in a query. Some agents don’t mind but it’s a big distraction for me. And one of the mistakes I see most often is the dreaded homophone! Homophone.com (a delightful, enthralling website if you ask me) defines its namesake as “words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.”

I think a lot of homophones sneak into queries, manuscripts, and even occasionally (gasp) printed books because spellcheck cannot catch them. So it’s up to you to be alert! Today’s blog post is devoted to raising awareness of a few of the most tricky homophone errors…because the first step in getting help is realizing you have a problem.

Discrete ≠ discreet

Is your character very good at handling a scandalous piece of info? She is discreet!
Is your character an individual unlike anyone else in all of fiction? He is discrete!

Faze ≠ phase

If your protagonist is handles an unexpected event with aplomb, it did not faze him. He is unfazed!
If your protagonist is planning each step of an espionage investigation, she is in charge of every phase. Phase Two: TOP SECRET.

Peak ≠ pique ≠ peek

Did you just reach the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro? You peaked!
Did you read a teaser from your new manuscript that left everyone on the edge of their seats? You piqued their interest!
Did you sneak into your mom’s closet where she always hides the holiday gifts? You peeked!

I’m sure anyone who reads this blog is past master of the dreaded to/two/too pitfall, or the slightly more challenging they’re/there/their trilogy. What homophone mistakes always trip you up? 


7 Responses to Beware of Homophones

  1. Christine Sarmel says:

    Can’t help but ask if you’ve read RAIN, REIGN by Ann B. Martin, in which the main character is obsessed with homophones:)

  2. Joelle says:

    I guess in this day and age it doesn’t matter much what kind of stationary people use to write their letters, does it? :-) That’s the one that gets me! I’ve even seen aisles marked “stationary” in stores. Aren’t all the aisles stationary? Do they march around when no one’s looking?

    I did not know discrete/discreet. Between keeping my Canadian spellings and my American spellings straight, I just figured that was another one of those interchangeable words. Basically, I’m hooped, as we say up here.

    • sharon says:

      Oh yes, stationary/ery is a good one. And I am so thrilled to know I’ve opened your eyes to discrete. Mission accomplished!

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    Thanks for the tip re: the website. This is great timing. I just taught a brief class (ex tempore) on they’re/their/there, etc. for my ESL students. It was prompted by their unanimous use of “layed” as the past tense of “to lie [recline]”. They were dumbfounded when I explained the principle parts of to lie, to lie (tell an untruth), and to lay.

    Principle/principal, reed/read, led/lead, capital/capitol, effect/affect, etc. are commonly confused. Also, ducats (money) vs. duckets (tickets).

    Less common, I suppose: white/wight or wail/wale/whale (though, technically speaking, these are not actually homophones). I suppose bury/berry really aren’t, either.

  4. D.C. DaCosta says:

    Compliment and complimentary vs. complement and complementary

  5. DGLM says:

    Will you except any replies accept this one?


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