Grammar Wednesday

Homophones, by request!

Blue emailed me (thanks, Blue!) and asked that I address those tricky words that sound the same but which decidedly AREN’T. It’s a timely topic, given that my students are handing in the final drafts of their persuasive speeches and I’m seeing a lot of these types of errors at the moment. Ready or not, here we go!


threw the past tense of the verb “throw.” He threw out a wise-ass comment about her cooking, and she threw her shoe at him.

through is most commonly a preposition that means “in one side (or end) and out the other.” The quickest way to the theatre is through the park. It can also function as an adverb (“the train goes through to D.C.”) and an adjective (I’m through with this nonsense; I’m going home”).


My students cannot be bothered to learn these!

there is generally used as an adverb meaning “in or at a place.” I’ll be there at six thirty.

they’re is a contraction meaning “they are.” They’re going to be late, so we’ll get a table and order an appetizer while we wait.

their is the plural possessive of “they.” Jake and Suzi gave their old car to their daughter, who promptly repainted it a striking shade of purple.


roll is generally a verb which means “to move along a surface by revolving or rotating.” Whenever I drop coins, they to roll in a million different directions. It can also be a noun (a roll of paper towels or a dinner roll).

role is a noun that means “a part or a function played.” The actor’s role in the film was that of the scorned lover.


or is a conjunction that indicates a choice. The entree choice on the invitation specified either chicken or fish.

oar is a noun meaning a paddle. She’s only got one oar in the water (I heard someone use this phrase the other day, and it made me grin).

ore is a noun meaning a metal-bearing mineral or rock. The iron ore is processed in a giant facility outside of Cleveland.


dual is an adjective that notates two. The silicon potholder serves the dual purpose of taking hot things out of the oven and keeping the bowl from sliding on the countertop when I’m whipping cream.

duel is a noun that means a prearranged combat between two people. The testosterone-poisoned boys agreed to a duel to settle their dispute about a girl who didn’t even know either boy existed.



sees is a present tense of the verb “see.” She sees the socks on the floor, but they’re not hers so she’s not going to pick them up.

seas is a plural of the noun “sea.” Of all the seas in the world, I suspect I’d like the Caribbean the best.

seize is a verb that means to take hold of suddenly or forcefully. The baby seized my finger with a strength of grip that surprised me.

Happy Wednesday, All! Keep those grammar questions coming!



Filed under Grammar

17 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. pedantic peasant

    Great list!

    My favorite, which I’ve been getting a lot lately and I think is a newer problem is throne/thrown

  2. wordlily

    What about who’s/whose? This was a pretty common problem for some of my young writers at the newspaper.

  3. Peasant, I’ve not seen that one yet. I’ll add it to my list the next time I do a “confused words” Grammar Wednesday.
    WordLily, I did who’s/whose already – check this entry out for my take on this ever-present problem…

  4. your/you’re is also a common one. the one that surprised me most in my students is are/our, mostly because i pronounce them differently. my students, however, often do not, and so they end up confusing them.

  5. Lara, is it possible that I’ve NOT directly addressed your/you’re before?! I did a quick search, and didn’t come up with anything substantive! Huh. I should fix that…

    I pronounce “our” and “are” differently, too (‘ow-wer” and ar). My “our” and my “hour” sound the same. Do yours? Where did you grow up?

  6. shoot. after testing, i’ve discovered that when i read the word all by itself, i pronounce ‘our’ and ‘hour’ the same. however, in context, i tend to pronounce ‘our’ the same as ‘are’. that’s bad, huh? πŸ˜›

    i grew up in southern california, so i have a lot of interesting speech patterns. πŸ™‚

  7. I often pronounce our as ahr. Not always, but when I am just jabbering and not thinking about it. Of course I realized it when my daughter had trouble learning to spell our. The ahr comes from the New Orleans influence on the way I speak. We also say dat instead of that.

  8. Some of our function words have a full form and a reduced form: thee (the), you (ya), our (ar), them (thum, em), him (im), her (er), your (yer) and so on. I think the reduced forms of the pronouns are sometimes analyzed as clitics.

  9. Nothing makes me cringe like reading a misuse of a homophone.

    Though, at first glance, I was pretty sure we were off topic and venturing into a discussion about the late Jerry Fallwell. (My apologies for being crude, sometimes I just can’t help it.)

  10. HAHAHAHAHA, Snob!! No, no; the discussions about homoPHOBES happens on the OTHER blog….

  11. I’ve got one that’s cringe-worthy: would’ve as would of. I have explained that word combination sooooooooooo (insert eye roll) many times.

  12. bowyer

    My students still can’t tell which witch is which.

    I also haven’t been able to affect the way they use effect.

  13. Going over to “search” I didn’t notice anything on its/it’s, but I can’t imagine that you haven’t included that already.

    This year I got my favorite one: “hers” or “hears” for “hearse.” One of the students at our school bought – no joke – a used hearse. And of course, that was all ANYONE was talking about for days. I encouraged them to write about it and got some real gems…

  14. A hearse would be cool.

    Like a panel van (as we in Australia call them) but with more leg room.

  15. I think I’ve covered “it’s and its” more than any other words I’ve investigated here; it’s a problem spot for Blue. I’ve been trying to get her to start thinking of the apostrophe as the dot for the missing “i,” but I don’t think she’s buyin’ it.

    I’ve not done “witch and which” yet, but I know I’ve done “whether and weather”…

    A hearse, huh? Well, it’d certainly be easy to spot in the parking lot!

  16. My husband calls those “hearsts.” After driving me nuts during a funeral weekend, I finally just hollered, “There is no T at the end of hearse!”

  17. pedantic peasant

    I’m grading my finals. Had to send you one for this.
    How about:


    As in, “First he [Laius] was told that he was going to be killed by his son [Oedipus]. So he got read of his son.”

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