“Cite” vs. “Site” vs. “Sight”: How To Spot The Difference

Cite, site, and sight are classic homophones: they sound the same, but differ in meaning (and spelling). Cite is most commonly used as a verb in the context of facts, sources, and academic papers. Site is most commonly used as a noun in the context of locations and places. And sight is used in the context of seeing and things that are seen.

Sounds straightforward, but it can get complicated. Is it sightseeing or siteseeing? Seeing the sights or seeing the sites? After all, when you’re sightseeing (spoiler), the sights you’re seeing are often historical sites and cultural sites.

In this article, we’ll break down the distinctions in detail so that you’ll be able to sight the difference from a mile away. We would cite our sources except that, well, this site *is* the source.

⚡️ Quick summary

You cite facts or sources, especially in an academic paper. A site is a place or a location. Sight is the sense of vision, but it can also refer to something you see.

What does cite mean?

Cite is most commonly used as a verb. Its most common meanings all involve providing facts, proof, evidence, or examples.

In an academic context, cite means “to quote a passage especially as an authority.” When you write a paper, you’re required to cite any sources you used to find the information in it. There are different formal methods for citing information (including when you cite an entry from Dictionary.com). When making reference to information from a source (such as including a quote from it) in an academic paper, citing that source often includes noting the author’s last name and the year of publication. All of the sources consulted for the paper are often placed in a list that follows the text of the paper. Depending on its format and the particular style being used, this list may be called a bibliography or may be labeled “Works cited.” An entry in this list is called a citation (or a cite for short, but this is not all that common). Citations often include details like the author’s full name, the title of the source, and the year it was published, among other things.

Need help with writing those citations in your paper? We have some pointers on how to create them seamlessly.

More generally, cite can mean “to mention in support or as proof or confirmation of something.” This is kind of like citing sources or examples, but in everyday situations instead of a written report. For example, you might say something like I can cite many examples of times that I’ve experienced kindness from strangers in my own life.

Cite is also used in legal context. If you’ve been cited for a legal infraction, it means you’ve been officially summoned to court for it.

This is, etymologically, the original sense of the word. Cite comes from the Latin verb citāre, meaning “to hurry, set in motion, summon before a court,” from ciēre, “to move.”

What does site mean?

Site is most commonly used as a noun to mean “the position or location of something,” especially the exact place where something is, was, or will be located, as in They’ve finally chosen a site for the new school. This sense of the word is used in terms like construction site, campsite, and worksite. The term on-site means “located at the place where something takes place,” as in an on-site medical facility or on-site daycare.

A site isn’t always a location on the ground. The word can be used to refer to other locations, such as a point on the body, as in The patient complained of pain at the injection site.

As a noun, site is also used in another common way—it’s short for website. This is related to its sense as a place or location, since a website is essentially a location on the internet.

Less commonly, site can be used as a verb meaning “to place something somewhere or to provide something with a location.” You might say Residents protested when the company announced plans to site its next factory next to the river.

Site comes from Latin situs, meaning “position, arrangement, site.” It’s not related to the root that cite comes from.

How to use cite vs. site

It can be hard to remember the difference between site and cite because they’re spelled so similarly. One thing that can help is that site is much more commonly a noun, while cite is much more commonly a verb.

You can remember that site begins with s because in most cases site could be replaced with the word spot. You can remember that cite begins with c because its noun form is citation (and “sitation” is not a word—not one that we know about, anyway).

What does sight mean?

As a noun, sight can mean “vision,” as in The doctor said my sight has improved. Or it can mean “something that is seen,” as in We’re hoping to see some beautiful sights on our vacation. It’s this sense of the word that appears in see the sights and sightseeing, or in expressions like It was a sight to behold or What a sight!

As a verb, sight usually means “to see, to notice, to observe,” as in I’m hoping to sight some rare birds on my trip. If you can substitute it with “see” and the sentence has the same meaning, you’re probably using it right.

Sight is the oldest word of the bunch (it’s been used in English for the longest time). It comes from the Old English sihth, which ultimately comes from sēon, which is also the basis of the word see.

Speaking of sight, do you know about these sight word activities to help little kids learn to read and write?

How to use sight vs. site

This might be the most confusable pair, especially in the context of tourism. Remember that it’s sightseeing, not siteseeing. But there are cases where sight and site will mean nearly the same thing—seeing the sights often involves visiting sites that are historical or important in some other way.

Here’s an easy way to remember which word is the right one to use. If it’s a sight, it’s specifically something you’re looking at—it might even be so beautiful that it makes you sigh. If it’s a site, it’s a place that you’re visiting—hopefully a place with somewhere to sit and rest.

Examples of cite, site, and sight used in a sentence

Here are a few real-world examples to help illustrate the differences between cite, site, and sight.

  • Be sure to cite all of your sources, even ones you don’t quote directly.
  • You could tell she was prepared because she cited several employment statistics off the top of her head during the discussion.
  • The site of the explosion was still filled with rubble.
  • Check out our other site, Thesaurus.com, for synonyms and grammar content!
  • My sight isn’t too good these days—I really need to get glasses.
  • The sight of such an important historical site filled me with awe.

Don’t cite us on this, but you might be a pro at these commonly confused words now. Take this quiz to test your skills!

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