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English Language Learners: Homophones

5 years ago

Words like these, which sound the same but have different meanings, are called homophones. In this post, you’re going to learn over 25 pairs of homophones that you’ll definitely want to know. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the meaning of the word “homophone.”

25 Sets of English Homophones All English Learners Should Know

Depending on how long you’ve been learning English, you may know a lot of these already. But I created this list so that even high-level English learners can find some new or interesting words. So hopefully there will be at least a few words that you didn’t know before!
For each set of words, I’ll include a short definition and an example of the words in use.
You can find a list of specifically British homophones here, but again, most of them are also homophones in American English. Phew! Don’t worry if that sounded complicated, we’ll only focus on clear homophones today.

1. ate, eight

ate (verb): This is the simple past tense of the verb “to eat.”
I ate an entire pizza and now I’m really full and tired.
eight (noun): The number after seven and before nine.
Charles will wake up at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.

2. bare, bear

bare (adjective): If something is bare, it means that it’s not covered or not decorated.
Tom likes to walk around his house in bare feet. He says it’s more comfortable than wearing shoes.
bear (noun): A large mammal.
When you go camping, you should be careful to not leave any food or anything with a scent in your tent because they can attract bears.

3. buy, by, bye

to buy (verb): A synonym of “to purchase.” It’s probably one of the first verbs you learned.
I forgot my money at home. Do you think you could buy me lunch and I’ll pay you back tomorrow?
by (preposition): This can be used in many different ways. It’s commonly used to mean “next to” or “near” when describing a location. It can also indicate who created something.
My favorite autobiography is “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” It’s written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. 
bye (exclamation): This is a shortening of “goodbye.”
I’ve got to go now, so bye! See you on Sunday!

4. cell, sell

cell (noun): A cell is a small area or room, usually in a prison. A cell can also be one of the smallest divisions of a living organism.
The prisoner spent 10 years in his cell.
to sell (verb): To exchange a product or service for money. Like “buy,” it was probably one of the first verbs you learned.
We would like to sell our car, but we don’t think we’d get very much money for it.

5. dew, do, due

dew (noun): Dew is the name for small drops of water that accumulate (gather) on plants and other objects outside during the night.
When I went outside early in the morning, the dew on the grass made my shoes wet.
to do (verb): This is a common verb is used to indicate an action. It can also be an auxiliary verb.
What do you usually do on Friday nights?
due (adjective): This is used to indicate the deadline (final day) that something can happen. It’s also used to indicate when a baby will probably be born.
My friend is pregnant. Her baby is due in October.

6. eye, I

eye (noun): The part of your body that you use to see.
My eyes hurt when I read. I think I need a pair of glasses.
I (pronoun): A first person singular subject pronoun.
I really hope you know what this word means.

7. fairy, ferry

fairy (noun): A mythical creature that can often do magic.
There is a fairy named Tinkerbell in the story “Peter Pan.”
ferry (noun): A ferry is a boat that moves passengers and vehicles across water. It’s used for long distances or places where there are no bridges.
The ferry in Costa Rica is really hot and incredibly badly organized. At least the trip only takes an hour.

8. flour, flower

flour (noun): This is the main ingredient in bread. It’s a powder made from ground grains.
Tony wanted to make a cake, but he didn’t have any flour, so he couldn’t.
flower (noun): The decorative, colorful part of a plant.
If you want to give flowers to somebody you love, avoid white roses. They are often given when someone dies.

9. for, four

for (preposition): This preposition is usually used to indicate a person who receives something, or to indicate a purpose.
We wanted to buy a chocolate cake for Cheryl’s birthday. The bakery didn’t have any chocolate cakes for sale, though, so we got vanilla instead.
four (noun): The number after three and before five.
The Beatles, one of the most famous bands ever, had four members: George, John, Paul and Ringo.

10. hear, here

to hear (verb): This is the action that you do with your ears. The sense is called “hearing.”
I can’t hear the TV. Can you please turn up the volume?
here (adverb): “Here” indicates the place where you are at any moment. It’s the opposite of “there,” basically.
Can you set the boxes down over here please? Yes, right here next to the door.

11. hour, our

hour (noun): A period of time that lasts 60 minutes.
It takes about six hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
our (pronoun): This is the possessive pronoun form of “we.”
We should study for our exams.

12. know, no

to know (verb): To have knowledge or understanding about something.
Reggie knows how to speak French.
no (determiner): This indicates a negation or something that’s not true.
There is no good reason to listen to Justin Bieber.

13. knight, night

knight (noun): A man given a special honor (or rank) by a king or queen. Their title is usually “Sir.”
One popular English legend talks about King Arthur and the Knights of the round table.
night (noun): The period of time when it’s dark and most people sleep.
I prefer to work at night, since it’s quieter and not as hot. I can concentrate better.

14. mail, male

(to) mail (verb or noun): As a noun, this is a collective noun for letters and packages. As a verb, this means to send something to somebody. Email also comes from this word.
I haven’t gotten the mail yet today, but I was expecting a letter from grandma. Can you please check the mailbox?
male (adjective or noun): An adjective (or noun) indicating that something is masculine or has masculine reproductive organs.
People always ask if our cat is pregnant. I tell them he can’t be, since he’s a male. He’s just fat.
Interesting note: In British English, they usually use the word “post” as a verb or a noun, instead of “mail.”

15. marry, merry

to marry (verb): The action when two people have a wedding; also called “to get married.”
My grandpa told me to be sure to marry a good woman.
merry (adjective): A synonym for “happy,” but less common in modern English. Mostly used in phrases like “Merry Christmas!”
I don’t like to go shopping in December because the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” always gets stuck in my head.
Interesting note: This is another example of a three-word homophone set, if you include the name “Mary.”

16. meat, meet

meat (noun): Edible flesh from an animal.
Vegetarians don’t eat meat.
to meet (verb): When you are introduced to a person for the first time. It can also refer to later meetings.
I’m excited to travel to England so I can meet some new people!
Interesting note: In English, you can generally only meet people, but not places. If you want to talk about seeing a place for the first time, you could say something like “I want to see Paris,” “I want to go to Paris,” or “I want to visit Paris.” But we generally don’t use the words “meet” or “know” with places.

17. pair, pear

pair (noun): A set of two things that go together.
Most of these examples of homophone sets are pairs of words, but some are groups of three or four words.
pear (noun): A delicious fruit.
I wanted to buy pears for my fruit salad, but they only had winter pears. I don’t like winter pears very much because they’re hard, so I got peaches instead.
Interesting note: This can also be a set of three words if you include the less-common verb to pare. It means to cut something to make it smaller.

18. right, write

right (adjective): This can mean either a synonym of “correct” or the opposite of “left.”
I should turn right when I get to 10th Street, right?
to write (verb): The action of making words or marks to represent ideas.
Jerry’s dream is to write a novel, but he hasn’t decided what the book should be about.
Interesting note: This can be yet another homophone set of three words if you include “rite,” which is a ceremony or ritual. There is also a common last name “Wright,” which is pronounced the same as “right,” “write” and “rite.”

19. sight, site

sight (noun): This is the sense that you use when you see or look.
Blind people can’t see. They have no sight.
site (noun): This is a synonym for “place.” The most common modern use is in the word “website.”
There’s an awesome site for language learners.
Interesting note: You guessed it: This can be another three-word set if you include the word “to cite,” which means “to reference.” For example, it’s commonly used in academic papers that have citations of other books.

20. son, sun

son (noun): A male child.
Grandma and grandpa had four sons and three daughters.
sun (noun): The star at the center of our solar system. It’s that big yellow thing in the sky during the day.
Don’t look directly at the sun, or you’ll damage your eyes. You may even lose your eyesight!
Interesting note: Don’t forget that the word “sons” only indicates males, and “daughters” is just females. If you want to indicate “sons and daughters” with only one word, you can say “children” (even if you’re talking about adults).

21. their, there, they’re

their (pronoun): The possessive pronoun for the subject “they.”
We should study for our English exam, and they should study for their German exam.
there (adverb): Remember the word “here” above? This is basically the opposite of that. “There” can refer to any place where you are not at.
Who is that over there? Is that Jane? If so, I hope she comes over here, since I want to talk to her.
they’re (contraction): This is a contraction of the phrase “they are.”
The children all passed their exams, so they’re very happy!

22. to, too, two

to (preposition): This usually indicates a direction that something is moving.
Every day Paul and Judy drive together to school. 
too (adverb): “Too” can usually either mean “also,” or it can indicate that there is more of something than necessary (and it’s usually a problem).
I’m too full to finish this plate of food. I’ll ask the waiter if we can have a container to take it home. And I’ll ask for the bill, too.
two (noun): The number after one and before three.
Most homophone sets have two words, but some have three or four.

23. one, won

one (noun): The number after zero and before two.
The musical group Three Dog Night said that one was the loneliest number.
won (verb): “Won” is the simple past and past participle form of the verb “to win.”
Grandpa won $500 in his poker game!
Interesting note: When you use a form of the verb “to win,” you can either indicate the event or the prize, but not the opponent. If you want to indicate the opponent, use the verb “to beat.” So in the example above, you could say “grandpa won $500″ or “grandpa won the poker game,” but you would say “grandpa beat all of his poker friends.”

24. wait, weight

to wait (verb): This means to stay in one place or to anticipate something.
It was snowing a lot, so the bus came late. I had to wait in the cold for 20 minutes.
weight (noun): This word indicates how heavy something is.
Every year around Christmas, many people gain a lot of weightbecause they eat lots of food but don’t exercise. 
Interesting note: If you want to determine a person or an object’s weight, then the verb is “to weigh.” The machine you use to weigh something is called a scale.

25. wear, where

to wear (verb): To have clothing or accessories on your body.
I hate wearing ties. Do you wear ties?
where (interrogative): A question word used to ask for a location.
Where should we meet for dinner? Personally, I’d like to meet at the new Chinese restaurant in town.
Interesting note: Since this is our last set for this article, of course I’ll include another word for this homophone set: “ware.” It’s a suffix that indicates objects that are related. For example, stores often have housewares and kitchenware departments that sell things to use in your home or kitchen.
I hope that you learned some new words—I know I did! Happy learning!

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