Grammar Adventures: Escape from Homophone Horror

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First, an introduction. Maria Rainier, a fellow blogger and writer, recently offered to write a guest post here on Crayon Writer. Having looked at some of her other work, I easily accepted. Maria chose the topic to write about, and I didn’t edit her work in any way (it was wonderful “as is.”) So take some time to read her informative and fun lesson about confusing homophones. And check out the blog about online degrees that Maria co-authors. Enjoy!

These aren’t your kindergartener’s homophones. You know the difference between “their” and “there” and you’ve even got “they’re” down as a contraction that shouldn’t be confusing at all. But there are some other homophones lurking in your vocabulary that just might trip you up if you’re not careful. I know one of these tricky word pairs caught me off-guard, and I like to think that I’m a decent writer. So even if you’re sure that you know your homophones, check out these definitions so you can avoid any potential mix-ups.

Affect vs. Effect

Some people explain this one in terms of verbs and adjectives, but both of these words can be verbs. “Affect” is more commonly used as a verb than is “effect,” but the verb rule won’t always help you out. For example, the sentence “Global warming effected climate change” is correct in the sense that climate change was a product of global warming. When used as a verb, the word “effect” most often means “to produce as an effect,” which is a good way to remember this tricky homophone. Replacing the verb “effect” with this phrase will help you determine whether or not you’re using the correct word. The following example illustrates this trick:

“Her food allergies effected her performance.”

“Her food allergies produced her performance as an effect.”

In this case, it’s obvious that the correct word would be “affect” because the second sentence makes no sense.

Another helpful tip is to remember that “affect” is never an adjective, only a noun or verb. So if you need an adjective and you’re trying to decide between “affect” and “effect,” the latter is your answer.

Discrete vs. Discreet

These two adjectives can be confusing, but don’t let them fool you. “Discrete” refers to individual parts or something that has them. We also have “discrete” mathematics, but that’s enough confusion for a barrel of monkeys – suffice it to say that math is never “discreet” unless it somehow becomes a person or object. “Discreet” refers to someone who shows prudence or is judicious in conduct; a sensitive person with lots of tact would be “discreet.” When referring to an object, it means unobtrusive and typically describes something tasteful and understated.

Pour vs. Pore

To be honest, this one is a pet peeve because I noticed that the word “pour” was used in the capacity of “pore” in a textbook when I was in the sixth grade. I pointed it out to the teacher, who said it was correct. I argued and got out the dictionary, but I still took a trip to the principal’s office. So, to exonerate my sixth-grade self, here’s the breakdown:

You don’t “pour over” something – that particular usage is reserved for “pore,” which is also a component of our skin’s ventilation system. Rock surfaces can also have pores or be porous. And that’s the extent of the word “pore.” Unless you’re pondering, studying, reading attentively, or talking about skin or rock surfaces, you shouldn’t use the word “pore” (and “pour” should never creep into any of “pore’s” territory).

So, now that you’ve read about three sneaky sets of homophones, do you have any to share? Let us know in the comments.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different online social work degrees and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

17 Responses to “Grammar Adventures: Escape from Homophone Horror”

  1. To this day I always have to stop and think about when to use “effect” versus “affect”. Those two have always been a thorn in my side. Interesting article thanks for sharing it, now I have somewhere to go back and look as a cheat sheet!

  2. “It’s” vs. “Its” is still one that my husband has to ask about.

  3. Smile lyrics says:

    I always have to check Affect vs Effect. lol :)

  4. affect vs effect is the one that always drives me nuts! When I point it out to people many don’t even realize “affect” is a word.

  5. I never even knew that there was a difference between discrete and discreet. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  6. Finally Fast says:

    Effect vs. Affect is definitely one that I think about all the time. The other two…I’ve been blissfully unaware of until today…I didn’t even realize there WERE two versions of Discrete/Discreet. I have always used the former. Lesson learned!

  7. Lots of people seem to have a problem spelling lose, spelling it “loose.” I guess that’s more spelling than a homophone.

  8. Affect vs effect is the most confusing one. Now I know how to use them right. With their and they’re, even a grade school pupil can understand this. There are also a lot of people who uses THIS and THESE confusingly. THIS is for singular and THESE is for plural right?:)

  9. Deducta says:

    It always drives me crazy whenever someone touts himself or herself to be an expert and makes mistakes such as the improper use of its and it’s. Oh well….good luck with affect and effect with those guys. hahahahaha

  10. Mia Redrick says:

    Before, I’m really confused about the word it’s and its.. But later on, I figured out they have different functions. It’s “It’s” is a contraction. A contraction is when a new word is formed from two or more separate words. While “Its” is a possessive pronoun, meaning “belonging to it.” Thank you for sharing this post.

  11. Affect and Effect always gets me and I have to look it up most times. Isn’t it funny how simple one thing can be and still get you all mixed up.

  12. I am a freelance writer and since part of my work is to write, write and write, I need to keep an eye on the words that I write, especially homophones. I have friends who are also writers but they are not as detailed as me when it comes to spelling, grammar and sentence structures. Your post is very informative and at the same time educational, Kudos to your blog!

  13. LOL! I know a lot of people often making these mistakes. I don’t blame them, it can really be confusing. There’s a lot more. Hope you can mention others, and help us learn more. Thanks.

  14. Lots of an individual appear to have a problem spelling lose, spelling it “loose.” I reckon that’s more spelling than the homophone.

  15. Sappy says:

    I think I got the correct difference between “affect” and “effect” now. Its a pity that I did not find anywhere till now, that effect(v) can be equated to such a simple and obvious phrase as “to produce as an effect(n)”. Thank you very much.

  16. Pour vs. Pore It is always was my problem).

  17. Jenna says:

    “Affect vs. Effect” always affects my writing and always reverse the effect. :P