Bear Arms or Bare Arms? Homophones Writers Need to Watch Out For

by Anne Wayman

bear or bare, homophones for writersBy Allison VanNest of Grammarly.com

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants citizens the write to keep and bare arms. No, wait, that’s the rite to keep and bear arms. Crumbs—I meant right!

English is loaded with homophones, those pesky words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same. In spoken language, we can usually tell which one is intended by context. In writing, however, it’s very easy to use the wrong word—and spell check doesn’t always catch the mistake.

Too/To/Two are tricky, and There/Their/There is worse, but for the most part these errors arise from a simple typing error. We’ve covered some commonly confused words before, but there are plenty more where those came from. Here are ten homophone sets to watch out for in your writing.

Bare/Bear: Bare means unclothed or uncovered. A bear can be a large, forest-dwelling mammal or a verb meaning to carry. It’s also the correct word choice in the expressions “It bears repeating” and “Bear with me.”

Example: I can’t bear it when furry old Uncle Dave walks around with a bare chest.

Write/Right/Rite: Write and right are pretty straightforward, but rite is a less commonly used word. A Rite is a ritual or formal occasion, often religious in natures, such as “last rites.”

Example: Susan has the right to write about Native American rites, but she is always careful to show respect.

Sight/Site: Sight relates to vision, as in “a sight for sore eyes,” while site refers to a place. It’s a website, not a websight after all.

Example: The site of the meteor crash was fenced off to hide it from plain sight.

Lightning/Lightening: Lightning is the stuff that comes down in bolts during a storm. Lightening is the present participle of the verb “to lighten.” Usain Boltis fast as lightning, not lightening.

Example: When lightening your hair, keep a close watch on the bleach—it’s lightning fast!

Illusion/Allusion: An illusion is a trick or mirage, while an allusion is a reference to a work of literature.

Example: Marianne drops a lot of literary allusions in conversation to give the illusion of being better read than she really is.

Peak/Peek/Pique: The peak is the uppermost point of something, to peek is to sneak a look, and pique is to irritate, provoke, or excite.

Example: The view piqued her interest, and she peeked out the window at the mountain peak.

Compliment/Complement: To compliment someone is to flatter them. Complement is a complete set or group of things that go together.

Example (courtesy of Grammar Girl): He complimented her on how well her dress complemented her new shoes.

Emigrate/Immigrate: To emigrate is to leave your home country, and to immigrate is to move to a country.

Example: Veronica’s grandparents emigrated from Germany in 1939 and immigrated to the United States.

Elicit/Illicit: To Elicit is to draw out or provoke, as in “elicit a response.” Illicit is something illegal.

Example: The reporter tried to elicit information from the police chief about the spike in illicit activity.

Ensure/Insure: Ensure and insure share the same Latin root, securus, as the words assure, sure, and secure. Both mean a guarantee, but insure is reserved strictly for financial liability such as life or car insurance.

Example: Tyrone wanted to ensure that his boat was insured before setting sail.

This list is by no means exhaustive—affect/effect could take up an entire post on their own—but we hope that it helps make you more aware of these pesky homophones. In meantime, try crunching your text with Grammarly’s automated proofreading tool. We’re sure it’ll have  a positive affect on your writing! No, wait, that’s effect

Got questions about homophones? Ask ‘em in comments and we’ll see what we can do.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sonja Foxe June 28, 2014 at 4:40 am

elicit, illicit
erratic, erotic

homophones are pretty much the basis for the pun, ‘the lowest form of wit’ pun/pawn in the wordsmith’s armararium (sp)

Reply

Sonja Foxe June 28, 2014 at 4:41 am

I see — you had elicit/illicit

Reply

annew June 28, 2014 at 8:12 am

Yes, great for puns.

Reply

Jennifer Thornberry June 26, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Great list! I’d like to add one. Along with sight and site, there is also cite, as in to cite a source.

Reply

annew June 27, 2014 at 6:51 am

Jennifer, great addition. Suspect Allison is watching and will add that to her list, thanks.

Reply

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