Don’t Get Tripped Up By These Ten Tricky Homophones

March 14 marks one of the geekiest days on the calendar. But, some people might confuse it for one of the tastiest.

It’s Pi Day. Not pie, but pi (II, π), the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet. In mathematics, the character is used to represent a constant—the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter—which is approximately 3.14159+.

While the infinitely long number represented by pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits (that’s over 1,000,000,000,000 digits after the decimal), people refer to pi as 3.14 in everyday settings. And March 14 can be written as 3/14—hence Pi Day!

Now, we can’t recite digits of pi to you ad infinitum, but we are experts in homophones. A homophone is “a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning,” as pie (the dessert) and pi (the ratio). Here are some more tricky pairs:

1. weather and whether

You’re talking about the weather, of course, when you’re describing whether it is raining or sunny out, hot or cold (e.g., the weather outside is frightful).Whether is a conjunction, “used to introduce the first of two or more alternatives, and sometimes repeated before the second or later alternative.” For instance: Whether or not I go to the movies depends on when I get out of work.☞ Holding concert outside depends on whether the weather cooperates.

2. here and hear

Here is generally an adverb or noun used to indicate a locality, e.g., I could sworn I left my cellphone right here.Hear is what your ears are for: to perceive and process data audibly. For instance: I heard that you had to get a new cellphone.☞ Hey, please come over here! I can’t hear you when you talk in the other room.

3. your and you’re

Your is a singular or plural possessive pronoun: your dog, I am your best friend, as two examples.

You’re is a contraction of you are: you’re going to the movies tonight, I think you’re the best, and so on.

☞ It’s your decision, after all; you’re the boss.

4. principal and principle

principal is in charge of a school. Principal is also an adjective meaning “chief, main,” as in the principal ingredient in a recipe.

A principle variously refers to “an accepted rule of conduct, fundamental law, or essential tenet,” e.g., I refuse to pay on principle.

☞ The high school principal gave the school a talk about the principle of academic integrity.

5. aloud and allowed

Something said aloud is done vocally (as opposed to reading or singing in your head): Today in class, we’re going to read our essays aloud.

Allowed indicates something is “permitted.”

☞  If you’re going to play music aloud, first make sure it’s allowed.

6. compliment and complement

This pair trips up a lot of us. A compliment is an “expression of praise, commendation, or admiration.” It can also be a verb: He complimented her keen insights during the meeting.

A complement, among other senses, is something that goes along with and enhances something else. It completes it (the first E in complement and complete are a handy mnemonic device).

☞ They got a lot of compliments on their new carpet, which complemented the living room decor perfectly.

7. a lot and allot

Speaking of a lot, a lot refers to a great deal of something. We eat pizza a lot. A lot of people went to the concert.A lot frequently gets miswritten as one word, *alot, or even confused for allot, “to apportion, distribute equally.” We allotted two slices of pizza per student.

A lot of times, people go in on a lottery ticket together and allot the prize money among them if they win.

8. capital and capitol

Among its other senses, a capital is “the city or town that is the official seat of government in a country, state, etc.” Austin is the capital of Texas, for instance.

A capitol is a building that holds legislative sessions. The Capitol, capitalized, refers to Washington, D.C.

☞ I know it’s in the state capital, but where’s the capitol building?

9. their, there, and they’re

OK, now you’re ready for a homophone … trio!

  • their, possessive pronoun for they (e.g. It’s their business, not yours)
  • there, an adverb for “in that place” (e.g., You’ll find the cereal over there)
  • they’re, a contraction for “they are” (e.g., They’re going to Hawaii)

☞ If you find that they’re playing their music too loud, ask them to move over there.

10. to, too, and two

Now, let’s end where we began: with a number.

  • to, a preposition or adverb indicating, among other things, direction towards (e.g., I’m going to the store)
  • tooan adverb meaning “also, excessively” (e.g., I, too, am going to the store)
  • two, what 1 plus 1 equals (e.g., Give me two more hours)

☞ The two of us go to the store too much.

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