Monday, October 18, 2010

Write Right Part One: Homophonic Homicide

After much prodding from customers, family, and friends, I am running a six-entry blog series dedicated to helping others overhaul bad writing practices. Again, it is our desire to see all professionals and aspiring professionals be transformed into functional writers. Recently, I was asked to pinpoint the most annoying mistake I see while proofing documents for others. Initially, I wanted to focus on the mistakes that I find my pen making the most, but that wouldn’t be in the best interest of my audience. If I could only verbalize how atomic the war against words can get, I could properly illustrate the turmoil that we go through to ensure documents are error-free, polished, and as concise as possible. Having shared that, the first offender of bad writing we will attack is the incorrect usage of homophones.

It has been said, that it takes twenty-one days to break a habit. If that is true, are you willing to do what it takes to eliminate the habit of misusing homophones? First, let us define a homophone. A homophone describes a word that sounds similar to another, but possesses a totally different meaning. Here are a few examples of homophonic errors.

1. Lucy chose the club witch would be the closest to there house.

2. Bobby plans to take his favorite toy plain on the airplane with hem.

3. Before they set out to see, they each had a peace of pie.

I will now give three-fourths of you a moment to ask yourselves, “Is this guy crazy or what;” but you would be surprised how many documents come across my desk with these exact types of preventable errors. I always express to my clients how errors immediately begin to cancel out the author’s credibility. Imagine if you went to have a final will and testament prepared by a lawyer; how offended would you be if the title plastered across the top of the page was “WHEEL AND TESTAMENT”? You would most likely think that this lawyer is not only incompetent, but it would probably prod you to read the entire document with a raised eyebrow and fine toothed comb. I ask you to reference the 15 common homophones below that I typically encounter while editing. I beg you to double-check this list to make sure that these homophones are not murdering your writing style. Perhaps it is necessary that you create a cheat sheet to identify homophones that you accidentally interchange. Remember, it takes consistency and dedication to break bad habits.

1. Affect/Effect
2. Break/Brake
3. Fair/Fare
4. Hair/Heir
5. Have/Half
6. Here/Hear
7. Holy/Wholly
8. Hour/Our
9. It’s/Its
10. Made/Maid
11. Their/There
12. Then/Than
13. Too/To/Two
14. Weather/Whether
15. Your/You're


  1. I truly appreciate the fact that you took the time to address this issue. I couldn't agree with you more regarding these errors canceling out the credibility of the author. It is not our intent while reading to demean the author, but with these errors, it does raise significant questions regarding their ability to perform.

  2. Wow! Very nicely stated. Again, I wholeheartedly believe many people out there have the potential to be great writers. Our job is to help them to hone in on that potential. I appreciate your comment. :-)