Do you know your ‘bear’ from your ‘bare’? How about your ‘cereal’ from your ‘serial’? If you’re constantly getting confused by English words that look or sound the same, this post will set you straight. Discover how to spot the difference and perfect your English sentences in no time!
Your first step to understanding these tricky words is to learn a bit more about them. Identical-sounding words can belong to more than one group, and knowing which group to put them in can make them easier to learn. The overall term for these kinds of words is ‘homonyms’ but we can split them into two categories: homophones and homographs.
If you’re already scratching your head in confusion right now, don’t panic! Even the most advanced learners sometimes get stuck on similar-sounding words. Keep reading to discover how to use some of the most common homophones and homographs in English, and start communicating like a pro.
homo = same
phone = sound
A homophone is a word that is pronounced exactly the same as another word but has a different spelling, like meat (n) and meet (v).
Homophones are easy to spot when they’re written down because they actually look different, so try and make sure you learn the correct spelling of each word and not just their meaning.
It’s useful to dedicate a section of your vocabulary notebook just to homophones, so you can write them down in their pairs when you spot them. A little drawing to help you remember them is really helpful, too!
Task 1: Think about what pictures you would draw to help you remember the words below
1. peace (noun) – when there is no war or fighting
‘The two countries signed a peace treaty agreeing not to attack each other.’
piece (noun) – a small part of a whole item
‘I’d like a piece of chocolate cake with whipped cream.’
2. hour (noun) – sixty minutes
‘I have to meet my friend for coffee in an hour’
our (pronoun) – belonging to us
‘Can you ask the porter to take our bags upstairs?’
3. bare (adjective) – naked, without clothes
‘He stripped bare to take a shower.’
bear (noun) – a large furry predator that often lives in the woods
‘The bear roared at the frightened campers.’
4. flour (noun) – wheat that’s been ground into a powder
‘Have we got flour, sugar, eggs and butter in the cupboard? I’m going to bake a cake.’
flower (noun) – the brightly coloured part of a plant which produces seeds or fruit
‘My daughter bought me a beautiful bunch of flowers for my birthday.’
5. cereal (noun) – a breakfast food made of grains that’s usually eaten with milk
‘His favourite cereal is Corn Flakes.’
serial (adjective) – of a crime committed many times by one person in a similar way
‘The serial killer has finally been caught by the police.’
6. ate (verb) - the simple past form of the verb ‘eat’
‘They ate dinner early.’
eight (noun) - the spelling of the number 8
‘I need eight notebooks – one for each of my students.’
7. hear (verb) – to be aware of sound