Dozens of homonyms, words that sound like other words but are spelled differently, are sometimes confused for their near doppelgängers. This post lists and defines twenty-five frequently confused word pairs, in which the first word is usually used mistakenly in place of the second one. (Definitions for words are simplified and not comprehensive.)
ad: abbreviation for advertisement
aide: one who helps
block: area bounded by streets, or an obstacle or a solid object
bloc: group with ideas or ideology in common
cannon: piece of artillery
canon: collection of works, or regulation, or standards or rules or a collection of them
canvas: durable, heavy protective material
canvass: debate, examine, or go out in search of responses
chomp: bite down
champ: bite down (same meaning, but idiom is “champ at the bit”)
complement: complete or enhance
conscience: adherence to or regard for fairness or moral strength
council: deliberative or legislative body
counsel: legal adviser
discreet: modest, prudent, unobtrusive
fair: event for entertainment, exhibition, and trade
fare: specific type of food
phase: carry out or introduce a stage, or adjust for synchronicity
flare: signal fire or light, or a reflecting or bright, unsteady light or a sudden outburst, an outward spreading or something that spreads
flair: style, or talent or tendency
forward: ahead of
foreword: brief introductory section of a book
hardy: audacious, brave, durable
hearty: healthy, vigorous, enthusiastic, or unrestrained, or full of appetite
isle: truncated form of island
aisle: passage between groups of seats
ordinance: law or rule
ordnance: ammunition and explosives
premier: best, or a political leader
premiere: first performance or showing of a form of entertainment
principal: leader of a school, or a leading person in an organization
principle: code, idea, or law
roll: list or other document, or material held as or in a roll
role: function, or character or part played
tact: diplomacy or discretion
tack: approach or course
team: group organized to achieve a goal or to compete
teem: be filled to overflowing or present in large quantities
tenet: something generally held to be true
troop: unit of military personnel
troupe: group of performers
wreak: cause, inflict
17 thoughts on “25 Confused Homonym Pairs”
On #14: quite a number of older books contain a “Foreward”, a warning to the reader like those brief messages before the feature movie to say that the following may offend some viewers.
council and counsel bring to mind immediately the trio of councilor, counselor, and consoler.
In general, an isle is physically smaller than an island, but this is not true in special cases such as “the British Isles”. This group contains some really large ones: Great Britain and Ireland.
On the other hand, these really are much smaller than Great Britain: the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Jersey, the Isle of Guernsey, the Isle of Aldernay, and the Isle of Sark.
From a map today, I just found out that the three of the Channel Islands that have airports on them are Jersey, Guernsey, and Aldernay.
Of course, you can get to the others via helicopter.
You can also have a troop of monkeys, Barbary apes, lemurs, prairie dogs, ferrets, chipmunks, and other such creatures.
In the military, a “troop” came specifically from the cavalry, and then that spread to armored units, and then to paratroopers, but no further. E.g. a troop of tanks in the 1st Armored Regiment, and the troop commander of such a unit.
Armored divisions have other subdivisions, such as a tank platoon, a tank company, and a tank battalion – where such names came originally from the infantry.
There is the easily-confused pair that does not even sound the same, really: Wight and Wright.
There is no such place as the “Isle of Wright”.
The Isle of Wight is the location of two of the strictest and most secure prisons in the United Kingdom. See the film PATRIOT GAMES, based on the novel by Tom Clancy: some depraved convicts from the Irish Republican Army were being sent to the Isle of Wight because that (still is) Britain’s version of Alcatraz Island.
Interestingly, in the novel those convicts had attempted to murder the Prince and Princess of Wales (presumably Charles and Diana), but in the film, that was changed to Queen Elizabeth’s cousin and his wife – also members of the Royal Family. In either case, the man who came to their rescue was JACK RYAN, a faculty member at the U.S. Naval Academy and a former U.S. Marine. In either case, the gallant American was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. He became “Sir John Ryan” to the British, just like “Sir Dwight Eisenhower”, “Sir George C. Marshall”, and “Sir Omar Bradley” of the U.S. Army, and similar officers of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Air Forces, and the U.S. Marine Corps, following World War II.
Here is one more pair of words that are easily confused: fuse and fuze, and there derivatives.
1. “Fuse” is a verb from metalcrafting, and it refers to the melting of metals and their associated materials, such as “flux”. Thus you can fuse some solder and use some flux to help you do it right. “Fuse” is also used (mistakenly?) as a noun in work with explosives, such as in mining and demolition, and with fireworks.
2. “Fuze” is a noun used in ordnance work for the armies, navies, air forces, coast guards, police departments, etc., around the world. A fuze is a device that detonates the explosive under the right conditions. This leads to such types as the contact fuze, time-delay fuze, radar proximity fuze, magnetic fuze, altitude fuze, water-pressure fuze, demolition fuze, and the scariest kind of all, the nuclear-weapons fuze.
There is a huge combination of technologies involved in making fuzes do what they are supposed to do, and only when they are supposed to.
This word “fuze” leads to the verb “to defuze” (often misspelled “defuse”). To defuze ordinance is one of the important jobs of combat engineers and of specialists in the police departments. A fascinating TV series about the combat engineers of the British Army was DANGER: UXB, broadcast in the U.S.A. in the early 1980s. “UXB” means “unexploded bomb”, and the Nazi Luftwaffe of “The Blitz” had a lot of nasty ways of deliberately booby-trapping bombs (to drop on England and Scotland) and making bombs that would go tick-tick-tick for a long time before exploding. (On of these dropped in a railroad yard or a railroad station would shut the whole place down. Then, it could detonate while the Army officer was trying to defuze it.)
The mythical “British Agent” James Bond 007 had several occasions in which he was befallen with the task of defusing an atomic bomb, such as in GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, and OCTOPUSSY. As usual, the Americans and/or the Soviets were involved, as well as SMERSH or SPECTRE.
In GOLDFINGER, the evil plan was to detonate an atomic bomb inside Fort Knox, Kentucky, and thus turning the gold supply of the U.S. Government into radioactive waste. This was the plot of Mr. Auric Goldfinger to upset the worldwide money supply, and this one starred Sir Sean Connery and Honor Blackmon.
In OCTOPUSSY, the renegade General Orloff of the Soviet Army wanted to detonate an atomic bomb on a USAF air base in West Germany, and he smuggled a stolen bomb onto the base. His intention was blame this on the Americans and to use this to spark a chain reaction that would lead to World War III. It became James Bond’s task to defuze that bomb during a circus performance on the air base.
OCTOPUSSY is one of my real favorites, along with MOONRAKER and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. All three of these starred Sir Roger Moore, and OCTOPUSSY had Maud Adams.
The darned spellchecker misspelled “defuze”….
The main weapon in STAR TREK was the “phaser” and not the “fazer”. A long time ago, I thought it might even be the “pfazer”.
I didn’t know champ meant to bite down. I thought it was only short for champion.
This is a helpful post, Mark. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 — Suzanne
Recently ran into council vs counsel
At some times in the past, we have mentioned the following sets of words, all of which can be pairwise confusing, “par excellence”.
succeed, secede, successor, success,
session, cession, (This is a true pair of homonyms.)
precede, proceed, preceder, predecessor,
proceed, process, precess, processor, precesser,
precess, precession, procession.
I included the word “precess” twice because it has two entirely different meanings.
“To precess” is something that gyroscopes and other spinning objects do. The process is called “precession”, and since a compass does precess, it is a “precesser”.
The other one I am having trouble with, but I am sure that I have heard such sentences as “He lied to the President without precess,” and “That miscreant made no precess of being both a communist and a fascist.”
“Preceder” is a word in Spanish that we ought to have in English, as in “Ronald Reagan was the preceder of George H.W. Bush.”
I believe that this is its meaning in Spanish.
I would love to go on vacation on the Greek isles.
In other words, to the small islands of Greece.
Some other people prefer to go to the isles of the South Pacific.
In other words, to the small islands of Micronesia and Polynesia in the South Pacific.
To spend less money, you could go to the 21 isles of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior (in Wisconsin).
Did you know that there are troops of monkeys that live on the isles of Louisiana?
At least, that is better than being in a troop of convicts on the Isle of Wight, or on Alcatraz.
There is the confusing trio of aids, aides, and AIDS.
Whenever you are thinking of pairs of things, it is good to look further into trios and quadruples….
For those who love aquatic mammals:
cetacean and secretion.
How do you figure some of these are homonyms? Champ/chomp, tack/tact, tenant/tenet, conscience/conscious, wreck/wreak? Those are even worse than weather/whether or Wales/whales. I guess sloppy speaking does lead to the sloppy writing, so there is that.