Grammar Wednesday

We’re back with another installment of Grammar Wednesday! (and you thought I’d forgotten!)

This week’s offering is brought to you by California Teacher Guy, who is in the midst of picking himself up and dusting himself off, but who still found the time to email me with a grammar glitch he found in a major newspaper’s site:


From a story in the LA Times about a murder-suicide:

“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city and county have hotlines available people in desperate straights, including job centers, counselors and suicide hotline workers.”

Ah, don’t you just love those homophone goblins?


This is one of a few homophones that always trip up my students.  Let’s go over a couple, shall we?

The word the author of the LA Times piece was looking for is straits, which is a noun that means a position of difficulty, stress, or need. Think “Dire Straits” – both the term and the rock band – and the Straits of Gibraltar and you’ll get this one right more often.

My students also get caught writing about something that “peeked” their interest.  The correct word for that application is piqued, which is a verb meaning, among other things, to excite the curiosity.

Another one that gets them a lot is “slight of hand” (it’s funny how often they mess up when they try to use idioms that aren’t part of their everyday speech).  The word they want is sleight, which is a noun that means a cunning, artifice, or skill.

There are a bunch of other homophones that I see used incorrectly a lot – the big winners are to, too, and two; whether and weather; cite, sight, and site; and dew, do, and due.  Really, the only way I know to get these things right consistently is practice.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!!



Filed under Blogroll, Grammar

10 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. I’m so glad Grammar Wednesday is back – it warms the cockles of my snobbish grammarian’s heart!!!

  2. Straits of Magellan, too, no?

    Do you think that straits is especially difficult now that straight can come in plural form since we use it as an antonym for gay? Before that straits was plural and straight was singular but now there’s extra things to think about.

  3. Dudley

    It may not be a true homophone, but it always cracks me up when I see someone write about a point being “mute.”

  4. I’ve caught myself doing the site/sight thing quite often.

  5. Shouldn’t it read “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city and county have hotlines available TO people in desperate straights…”?

    First the man shoveling and now all this “strait” talk. You’re killing me here!

  6. Good catch, Auntie! I just cut-and-pasted from CTG’s email; I should have proof-read it a little better.

    Sorry about all the strait talk. I’ll post something gay for you in a few days, okay? The Universe craves balance, after all…

  7. I cut and pasted from the LA Times, so that writer seems to have messed up twice!

  8. Dudley

    Are “job centers, counselors and suicide hotline workers” all considered to be “people in desperate straights (straits)?”

  9. Dudley, I am a pseudo counselor (it’s not my title but it is 90% of what I do) and there isn’t much straight/strait about me.

  10. Dudley

    Auntie, I should know better than to be sipping my coffee when reading blog posts. The screen is clean now 🙂

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