Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

Homonyms are words that sound the same and sometimes even have the same spelling, but they have different meanings and origins. Examples are so and sewhere and hear, and bear (the animal) and bear (to tolerate).

Homonyms come in two flavors:

Homophones are words that sound identical but differ in spelling and meaning, such as totootwo.

Homographs are words identical in spelling and often with the same sound, but they have different meanings. An example is well, a hole drilled in the earth to obtain water, and well, in good health.

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as my favorites penal and penile, which I discussed in an earlier post. Confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of: He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.

Here are a few of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

beek  to bask or warm in the sunshine or before a fire.
beak  the bill of a bird

century a period of 100 years
sentry guard

gait  manner of walking
gate  opening in a wall or fence

golf  you know, game with balls and clubs; “a good walk spoiled,” according to Mark Twain
gulf  a portion of an ocean or sea partly enclosed by land; wide separation

miner  one who works in a mine
minor  one who has not attained majority

morning  before noon, the a.m., where’s my coffee?
mourning  the act of sorrowing
Is it “Mourning Becomes Electra” or “Morning Becomes Electra”?

premier  first in rank; chief; leading
premiere  to present publicly for the first time
So you would say, “The Grilled Cheese Truck is the premier gourmet food truck in Los Angeles,” not  “the premiere gourmet food truck.”

pail  bucket
pale  deficient in color

retch  to try to vomit
wretch  miserable and unhappy person; a vile person
Whenever I peer into a mirror, I see a wretch and retch

tare  the weight of a container that is deducted from the gross weight to obtain net weight
tear  to pull apart or in pieces by force
I know, tear, as in to pull apart, should really be spelled tare; let’s leave tear to “a drop of the saline, watery fluid continually secreted by the lacrimal glands between the surface of the eye.”

But that’s English for you. It’s enough to make you shed a tear and tare your hair out.


I love the way Spell Check blithely and shamelessly mishandles homonyms, homophones and other confusingly similar words.

I’ve seen the following Ode to Spell Check all over the web but have never figured out who originally wrote it.

Eye have a spelling chequer, it came with my pea sea. It plainly marques four my revue Miss Steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say Weather eye am wrong oar write, it shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long And eye can put the error rite Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it I am shore your pleased two no Its letter perfect awl the weigh My chequer tolled me sew.

I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words. Please comment below.

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