Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

Homonyms are words with the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling.

A few examples: flea (insect) / flee (to run away)
cymbal (musical instrument) / symbol (sign)
doe (female dear) / dough (unbaked bread)

Homonyms that are pronounced the same but spelled differently are called homophones. The examples above are homophones.

Homonyms that are spelled the same are called homographs.
bear (animal) / bear (carry)
well (in good health) / well (source of water)
lean (not fat) / lean (to slant)

Synonyms are words that mean exactly or nearly the same as another word in the same language — homonym and homophone, for example!

Antonyms are words that mean exactly the opposite as another word in the same language. Common antonyms are hot and cold, male and female, Steve and genius.

If, like me, you’re tuned into homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words, please leave a comment with your favorites.

Here’s my latest batch of homophones & confusingly similar words…

arrant extreme  Steve’s blog is arrant nonsense
errand mission; short trip
errant traveling; short trip

boar male hog
boor rude or insensitive person — Hey, what are you looking at me for?
bore a dull, tiresome, or uncongenial person — Cut that out!
bore to pierce or drill into; force an opening

The word “boar” reminds me of “oar” — a favorite homophone of mine:
oar long pole for propelling a boat
o’er over (poetic)
or conjunction suggesting an alternative
ore mineral containing valuable metal

Why is “oar” a personal favorite? It conjures up memories of a bar in Santa Monica called the Oar House, which I’ll tell you about here, if you’re interested in learning about what was in its time (the Sixties & Seventies) the greatest bar in Southern California.

cache hiding place; something hidden
cash ready money

throes pangs; spasms
throws tosses
“Steve throws like a girl!” Frank managed to say between throes of laughter 

Here’s two homophones  interestingly related:
aural relating to the ear or sense of hearing
oral spoken; having to do with the mouth

Homophones are created orally and detected aurally.

And that brings up the whole issue of oral vs. verbal

From the Merriam Webster Usage Dictionary
The use of verbal to mean “spoken rather than written” occurs commonly and unambiguously with such words as agreement, commitment, and contract. Very often it is contrasted with the adjective written in contexts that make its meaning unmistakable:

“I would not consent to your being charged with any written answer, but perhaps you will take a verbal one?”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I’ve often heard verbal agreement and verbal contract, as well as verbal instructions. The only oral I can think of is oral exams and oral literature.

There’s also oral sex and oral fixation, but that’s more to oral also meaning “of or relating to the mouth.”


In a previous post of Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words I mentioned and promised to explore malapropisms, often hilarious verbal gaffes where the mind confuses words that sound similar.

“Having one wife is called monotony” (matrimony)

“Dogs and cats protect our yards from  rats, squirrels, golfers and other vermin” (gophers)

“Listen to the blabbing brook” (babbling) Norm Crosby

Malapropisms as defined by Sharon on dailywritingtips.com

Sheridan’s 18th century play, The Rivals, featured a hilarious character called Mrs Malaprop, who was apt to drop a verbal clanger whenever she opened her mouth. That’s where we get the word malapropism from, though its real origin is in the French phrase mal à propos, meaning inopportune or not to the purpose.

When someone uses a malapropism, it’s because:

  • they’ve used a word that was not what they intended, given the context
  • the word used sounds similar to the one intended
  • the word used actually means something different (in other words, it’s not a made up word)

Malapropisms are often the same part of speech, begin or end in the same way or have the same rhythm when spoken.

A few malapropisms courtesy of Pres. George W. Bush

“It will take time to restore chaos and order.”

“They have miscalculated me as a leader.”

“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.”

“I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well.”

“We are making steadfast progress.”

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words I’ve posted to date.

One thought on “Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

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