Six Common Homophones That Can Spoil Your Professional Writing

Written communication is crucial in professional settings, whether you’re sending an email to a supervisor or creating a webpage to sell a product. One small error can spoil that professional image and undermine your writing.

One common writing mistake is confusing homophones—words that sound the same, but have different meanings and spellings.

Let’s take a look at six common homophones, when to use them, and how to avoid confusing them.

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1. Hear, Here

“Hear” is the verb, as in, “I hear a dog barking.”

“Here” can be a noun, as in, “It’s not far from here.” It is also used as an adverb, as in, “Come here.” In the first example, “here” is a noun because it is a place. In the second example, it is an adverb because it describes the verb “come.”

Note: “Here” can also be used as an adjective, for emphasis (“I choose this book here”), but it should be avoided in professional writing.

Just remember—you can’t hear without an ear.

2. Their, There, They’re

As Webster’s dictionary online explains:

“Their” is used as a possessive pronoun, to indicate something that belongs to someone, as in “This is their house.”

“There” describes a place or positioning, and is used much like the word “here.”

“They’re” is a contraction of the two words, “they are,” as in, “They’re giving the presentation next.”

If you can substitute “They are” and it makes sense, then you want the “they’re” contraction. If you’re talking about ownership, think of how an heir owns something, and now it is theirs.

3. Than, then:

“Than” is used to compare things, as in, “I would rather drive than fly.”

“Then” is used to show the order of things, as in, “We took a walk and then had tea.”

Want to get it right? Remember that “a” comes first, and then the “e.”

4. Accept, except:

The verb “accept” means to take or allow something, as in, “I will accept the job offer.”

The word “except” means to exclude, as in, “I am available at any time, except between noon and one p.m.” Or, it can be used in place of “but,” as in, “I like working here, except I would prefer more flexible hours.”

You can remember these two by remembering that “accept” and “allow” both have a’s in them, and “except” and “exclude” both start with “ex-”.

5. Affect, effect:

In most cases, the verb “affect” means to influence or change something, as in, “How will this decision affect our customers?”

The noun “effect” is what happens as a result of something, as in, “Will these cutbacks have an effect on morale?”

To keep these straight, remember that affect is an action. You also have to affect something before you can have an effect, and “a” comes before “e” in the alphabet.

6. To, too:

The word “to” is a preposition, as in, “Go to the conference room.” It is also used as an infinitive combined with a verb, as in, “I have to start this project.”

The word “too” is an adverb that means “also,” as in, “I have a project to work on too.”

Remember which is which by remembering that “too” means something is added—like an extra “o”!

Using the correct words helps make clear communication easier. Choosing the correct homophone is just as important for keeping your writing professional and more effective.

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