So, my second post on Prince Spaghetti Day is going to be about the dreaded SPaG Monster. In my many years as a reader, a writer, and an editor, I’ve seen the wide variety of things that people just can’t seem to get a handle on, writing-wise.
Today, I’d like to tackle homonyms.
Homonyms are divided into two groups: homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) and homographs (words that are spelled the same, but sound or mean different things). For writers, it’s not the homographs that present the problems, it’s the homophones. And they don’t just challenge those of us swimming around in the muck, trying to get experience; bestselling authors (and their copyeditors) have trouble with them, too!
So, what are examples of these pesky creatures?
- its and it’s – Guess what! The apostrophe signals the contraction, not possession. So, “it’s” = it + is, while “its” means “belonging to it”. Used in a sentence, they would be: It’s always fun to watch the kitten playing with its ball.
Right. Clear as mud, I’m sure. Let’s try another one!
- there, their, and they’re – Again, the apostrophe is telling us that we’re dealing with a contraction. So “they’re” = they + are. “There” is has the virtue of being both a homophone and a homograph. It can mean “that place” (Put it “there”.); it can be an introductory word in a declarative sentence in which the verb precedes the noun (“There” is no hope.). And then “their” is the possessive of “they”. Used in a sentence, we’d say: There is no way they’re going to get their work done before the deadline.
Ugh. It’s worse!
Other really common ones include:
- lead/led (Just a word here… “led” is the past tense of the verb “to lead”. It’s an entirely different word from “lead”, the element. Necessity led Paul to lead the group to the safety of the lead mine.
Anyway, there are a lot of these little suckers. And it’s easy to get tripped up! Spellcheck generally doesn’t help you with homonyms; if you’ve spelled the right word the wrong way, you’re screwed! So, keep in mind that there are a lot of words that sound the same and look different. And, if it’s not your strong suit, make sure that one of your beta readers or critique partners is a fantastic speller!
Do you have any favorite homonyms?