The Oxford English Dictionary defines homonym as: “a word that is spelt like another word (or pronounced like it) but which has a different meaning, for example can meaning ‘be able’ and can meaning ‘a metal container for liquids,” and a homophone “as a word that is pronounced like another word but has a different spelling or meaning, for example some and sum”.

When listening to a stranger or a new friend in an English speaking country such as South Africa or England, it is easy to assume that you understand what is being said just by picking up on certain words that you already understand and building the sentence around it. What can happen though is that you hear a word that sounds like a word you know but, actually has a different meaning. Enter the homophone/homonym breakdown.

There are so many that I won’t be able to list them all here but let’s take a look at a few and hopefully avoid any further confusion and possible awkward moments in the future.

Pair (two of something) and pear (a fruit) – You can have a pair of pears but not a pear of pairs.

Flower (a colourful plant) and flour (a white powder made from ground wheat) – It is lovely to smell a flower but flour has no smell.

Lesson (a class/something learned) and lessen (to reduce) – It would be wonderful if we could lessen the amount of time it takes to learn a lesson.

Piece (a fragment of something) and peace (the opposite of war) – To achieve peace is no piece of cake.

See (to look at something) and sea (a big body of water) – If you go to Cape Town you will see the sea.

Right (to be correct/the opposite of left) and write (create words using a pen on paper) – It is right to write from left to right.

Isle (a small island) and aisle (the section in an aeroplane where you can walk) and I’ll (I will) – I’ll sit in the aisle seat on my flight to the isle of Capri.

There (over there) and their (possessive which means it belongs to them) – Their book is over there.

This was just a brief exercise to brush up on a few common ones but there are many more out there and the staff at Oxford English Academy are always happy to help clear this up further. Just remember to always check the weather before you decide whether to go out or not.

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