Homonyms are 1. words that are pronounced similarly but mean different things, 2. words that are spelled the same, and 3. words that are pronounced similarly. Learn to check your writing and the writing of others for homonym usage.

Homonyms are

  • words that are pronounced similarly but mean different things
  • words that are spelled the same
  • words that are pronounced similarly.

Accedeverb—to agree or consent
Ex: I accede to your request for help.
Exceedverb—to go over an expected limit
Ex: If you exceed the speed limit, you may get a speeding ticket.
Acceptverb—to receive
Ex: I would like to accept this award recognizing my community service.
Exceptpreposition—not including, but
Ex: Everyone was invited to the party except me.
Adviseverb—to counsel or give advice
Ex: I advise you to choose a career that you will enjoy.
Advicenoun—a suggestion or opinion
Ex: His advice was appreciated for being both wise and useful.
Affectverb—to influence
Ex: The long dark winter affects her mood, leading to seasonal depression.
Effectnoun—the result
Ex: The effect of her strict exercise routine was visible, and she gladly bought new clothes in a smaller size.
Adverseadjective—unfavorable, harmful
Ex: The medication had an adverse effect, making it difficult to concentrate.
Averseadjective—unwilling or hostile
Ex: His averse attitude towards the proposal became evident when he voted against it in the session.
All readyphrase—two words meaning that everyone in the group is ready.
Ex: We are all ready to leave for work.
Alreadyadverb—by this time
Ex: When we arrived at the concert, the first band had already begun to play.
All rightadjective—satisfactory or acceptable
Ex: Though it wasn’t the best meal ever, she said that dinner was all right.
All rightadverb—performed in a satisfactory manner
Ex: He was confident that he did all right on his exam today.
All rightexclamation—indicated agreement or acceptance
Ex: All right, I will go on a date with you!
Note: All right is an informal word in any usage. The variant spelling Alright is very informal to the point of slang. Neither is appropriate for academic writing.

Altarnoun—ceremonial structure for worship
Ex: The couple stood near the altar when they were married.
Alterverb—to change
Ex: He altered the results of the test so that he appeared to have passed.
Appraiseverb—to estimate value or worth
Ex: He appraised the jewelry at close to a million dollars.
Appriseverb—to inform
Ex: The employee apprised the manager of the situation with the upset customer.
Ascentnoun—rise or going up
Ex: The ascent to the top of the hill left her breathless.
Assentverb—to agree
Ex: He assented to her request, agreeing to adjust the agreement as needed.

Ex: He nodded to indicate his assent to her proposal.
Assureverb—to promise
Ex: I assure you that he will be on time to his appointment.
Ensureverb—to make certain
Ex: In order to ensure his timely arrival to school, I walked my son to class.
Insureverb—to protect against loss
Ex: There are many companies willing to insure your car against damage.

Capitalnoun—money / wealth or the location of the government buildings
Ex: The governor had a lot of capital invested in his house in the capital city of Albany, New York.

Capitolnoun—the building that houses the government
Ex: The capitol building contained a museum and a gift shop as well as the government offices.
Cerealnoun—breakfast food
Ex: I enjoy eating cereal for breakfast.

Serialadjective—arranged in number order or sequence
Ex: In order to replace the broken part, she needed the serial number for the washing machine.
Citeverb—to quote
Ex: You must always cite your sources when doing research.
Ex: The site of the new building was near a busy highway.
Sightnoun—a view or to see
Ex: The blind man had lost his sight in an accident.
Coarseadjective—rough texture
Ex: His hands were coarse from a lifetime of working outdoors.
Coursenoun—a path or route
Ex: The course for the race took the runners right through the middle of town.
Coursenoun—a part of a meal
Ex: The second course included a salad.
Coursenoun—a step in a process
Ex: The course of treatment, though effective in the long term, made him quite sick in the present time.
Coursenoun—a class in a formal setting
Ex: He enrolled in a chemistry course during his first semester.
Complementnoun—the thing that completes or makes up a whole or the thing that seems to go with something else
Ex: Her shoes complemented her outfit since they were both the same color.
Complimentverb—to praise or flatter
Ex: She accepted the compliment with grace.
Consciencenoun—inner voice that advises about moral right and wrong
Ex: If she had listened to her conscience, she probably would not be in trouble.

Consciousadjective—awake or aware, deliberate
Ex: Though he had suffered a blow to the head, he was conscious enough to get a good look at his attacker. He made a conscious effort to remember the face.
Councilnoun—governing body
Ex: The council decided to close the road for the duration of the construction.
Counselverb—to give advice
Ex: He counselled her to think carefully about her actions.
Ex: She considered the counsel of her teacher carefully.

Desertverb—to abandon or flee
Ex: He deserted his wife when she needed him the most.

Desertnoun—a dry, often sandy, location
Ex: He made sure to bring plenty of water for his journey across the desert.

Dessertnoun—sweet food
Ex: Though she was full from her meal, she still ordered dessert.
Devicenoun—invention or mechanism
Ex: The device that allowed her to change the channels on the television had dead batteries.
Deviseverb—to create or design
Ex: He devised a plan for their escape from the dungeon.

Disburseverb—to pay out money
Ex: He disbursed the payment to the workers every Friday.
Disperseverb—to scatter over a large area
Ex: She dispersed the grass seed across the entire front yard.
Elicitverb—to evoke or draw out
Ex: Her speech was designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience.
Illicitadjective—against laws, rules, or custom
Ex: His illicit activities led to his eventual arrest, judgment, and prison term.
Envelopverb—to wrap around or conceal
Ex: When they reunited at the airport, he enveloped her in a warm embrace.
Envelopenoun—container for a written message
Ex: I wrote the address on the front of the envelope.
Every dayadverb—daily occurrence
Ex: I get up early every day, even if I don’t have to go anywhere.

Everydayadjective—common, ordinary, routine
Ex: She wore her everyday shoes to the store.
Note: If you can put the word single between every and day, you need the space between them. Ex: I get up every single day.

Fartheradjective/adverb—the comparative form of far; that is, more physical distance than something else from the starting point
Ex: Her new house is farther away than her old house, adding time to the commute.
Furtheradjective/adverb—in addition, more
Ex: If you need further instructions, feel free to ask!
Formallyadjective—in a formal or official manner
Ex: I would like to formally request your presence at this event.
Formerlyadverb—in the past, before
Ex: Though they had formerly dated during high school, they had been separated for years now.
Gratenoun—an opening covered by crossed bars
Ex: He told her not to step on the grate because her high heels might get caught.

Grateverb—to break down into smaller pieces
Ex: She grated the chunk of cheese into shredded cheese to melt on top of the pizza.
Grateverb—to irritate
Ex: Her squeaky voice grated on his nerves.
Greatadjective/adverb—above normal or average standards
Ex: The day spent at Disney was a great experience.
Holenoun—an opening
Ex: They dug a hole in the ground for the new tree.

Wholeadjective—entire, complete
Ex: She stayed at his side the whole time he was sick.
Implyverb—to suggest indirectly
Ex: Though she did not say anything, the disapproving expression on her face implied that she did not like his clothing.
Inferverb—to reach a conclusion
Ex: From her disapproving glare, he inferred that he should change his clothing right away.
Note: A speaker will imply or suggest something; a listener will infer or understand something—and sometimes those two messages are not the same!
Leanverb—to rest against
Ex: He leaned against the wall while waiting for the train.

Leanadjective—skinny, not fat
Ex: He was surprised to see that the weight lifter was lean—he had expected a burly, muscle-bound woman, not this waif-like slip of a girl.

Liennoun—a legal right or claim to property
Ex: When she bought the house, she didn’t know that there was a lien on the property; apparently, the previous owner had not paid the taxes on time.
Liableadjective—legally responsible
Ex: Because he had caused the accident, he was liable for the cost of the repairs.

Libelnoun—damaging written statement
Ex: The newspaper was sued for libel after it printed a story that contained false information.
Note: Libel is written words that are harmful to a person’s character; slander is the verbal equivalent of the same action.
Looseadjective—not fastened or tied down
Ex: His pockets jangled with the sound of loose change; combined with the loose waistband, he decided he would need a belt to hold his jeans in place.
Loseverb—to misplace
Ex: I cannot believe you lost your car keys again!
Minoradjective—of smaller relative importance
Ex: Compared to the accident, earthquake, and explosions that happened that morning, breaking her ankle while tripping in a pothole seemed a minor inconvenience.
Minornoun—an underage person
Ex: Though she turned 18 in a few days, she was still considered a minor by the courts.
Minernoun—a person who works in a mine
Ex: The miners worked diligently to pull the coal from the underground cave.
Patiencenoun—calm perseverance
Ex: When the man started yelling at her, she took a deep breath and reminded herself to have patience.
Patientsnoun—people receiving medical attention
Ex: The nurse turned his attention back to the list of patients; he had a lot of sick people to see this morning.
Personaladjective—private, individual
Ex: Her mind struggled with the luxury of a private jet, an aircraft specifically designed for her own individual use.
Ex: The CEO issued a memo instructing all personnel to attend a meeting in the afternoon.
Plaintiffnoun—person who initiates a lawsuit
Ex: The judge considered the plaintiff’s argument carefully before allowing the defendant to speak.

Plaintiveadjective—showing suffering or discomfort
Ex: The sick child let out a plaintive wail of unhappiness as she rubbed her stomach.
Populousadjective—densely populated or filled with many people
Ex: Hong Kong is known for being populous, with residents living very close together in tall apartment buildings.
Populacenoun—the general public or population of a place
Ex: The populace showed up in large numbers on election day.
Proceedverb—to continue
Ex: Before she could proceed with the exam, she had to fill out some paperwork first.
Precedeverb—to go before
Ex: The paperwork preceded the actual exam—and she was glad to have more time to relax while filling out forms before getting started officially.
Precedencenoun—priority of importance, order, or rank
Ex: In the emergency waiting room, the man with the heart attack took precedence over the boy with the sniffles.
Precedentsnoun—earlier events used as an example
Ex: The Supreme Court’s decisions have set many precedents throughout history; these court cases will set the rules for similar cases in the future.
Principaladjective—main or most important
Ex: Though she had learned many things on her trip, the principal lesson was never give her passport to anyone.
Principalnoun—a person in charge of a K-12 school
Ex: After the fight, the boy was sent to the principal’s office for his punishment.
Principlenoun—a law or rule or guideline
Ex: Though she wanted to forgive him for his mistakes, she was having difficulty—there were moral principles to consider!
Stationerynoun—writing material
Ex: Knowing how much she loved to write letters, he gave her a lovely stationery set for her birthday.
Ex: After a week on the sailboat, she found herself longing for a stationary pier that would not move with the motion of the waves.
Thanconjunction—showing comparison
Ex: Though she is the younger child, she is taller than her older brother by a few inches. He is faster than she is, though.
Thenadverb—at that time
Ex: First, we will go to breakfast, and then we can go to the store.
Theirpronoun—possessive form of they
Ex: The party was at their favorite restaurant. It was their 30th anniversary.
Thereadverb—at that place or point
Ex: Everyone wanted to be there on time. There would be a brief performance at the start of the party.
They’repronoun—contraction of they+are
Ex: They’re so happy with one another; they’re a model of successful marriage for all of their friends.
Topreposition—word before an infinitive
Ex: He knew that in order to dance in the ballet, he needed to go to his lessons.
Tooadverb—also or to an excessive amount
Ex: She wanted to go too, but there were already too many people in the car.
Twonoun—a number
Ex: The reservation was for two people.

Waivernoun—a release form
Ex: In order to skydive, she had to sign a waiver stating that she would not sue the company.

Waververb—to fluctuate or shake
Ex: Though he could be persuasive, she resolved not to waver from her position.

What reference works can make word choice easier?

  • Dictionary (electronic or paper): Each entry provides the word’s definition(s) and an explanation of the word’s usage. Careful consideration of a word’s meaning (its semantic connotation) and its context should guide decisions about the word’s appropriateness.
  • Thesaurus (electronic or paper): Each entry provides a list of synonyms—words that have similar meanings. When a word does not fit the context as well as it should, but the general meaning should be preserved, a thesaurus can provide a synonym with a shade of meaning that is more suitable.

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