Y is for Yikes #AtoZChallenge

Common Errors Writers Make

Post by Guest Blogger
Elizabeth C.

The most common mistake I see writers making is substituting one homonym for another. English is full of pairs of words (sometimes three or even, very rarely, four words) that sound the same but have different meanings. The most common set is two, too, and to (meaning a pair, also, and towards).

Homonyms are often swapped in cliches where the expected word is a less used English word. The most common switch is in the phrase 'sneak peek' when 'peak' is substituted for 'peek.' A peek is a glimpse or a quick look, or in the case of a movie or play, a showing. 'Sneak peek' makes perfect sense – an early showing of an upcoming movie or a quick look at an upcoming event. 'Sneak peak,' on the other hand, is quite confusing. Is there a mountain hiding behind me?

I also see peak (or peek) and pique switched. 'A fit of pique' is a temper tantrum, not a sudden rain of mountains (a fit of peak) or a lot of blinking (a fit of peek).

The second most common homonym switch is cites and sites. Cites means refers to, while sites means locations or websites. “My English teacher cites Shakespeare as saying, 'Brevity is the source of wit.'” is very different from “The most important sites in Shakespeare's life were his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, and London.”

Changing vowels changes words. In complement and compliment, 'e' is changed for 'i'. Complement means enhance or bring to perfection and has a secondary meaning of allotment. 'Purple and pink complement each other.' Compliment is a statement of approval or beauty. 'I compliment my sister by telling her she has pretty hair.'

Another pair of easily confused homonyms changing 'e' for 'i' is counsel and council. Counsel means advice, and council means a group of advisers, as in this sentence: 'The council gave counsel to the king.'

Now let's look at 'a' and 'e'. Our first example is affect and effect, although I don't think of them as being strict homonyms, but I think it probably depends on your accent. (Using phonetic symbols I pronounce them i-fect (effect) and æ-fect (affect), but dictionary.com tells me that affect should be pronounced Λ-fect (uh-fect).) They are included here because they are so often confused.

Affect is the action. A is for Affect, A is for Action. 'The mood of the boss can affect the whole office. If the boss is happy, everyone is happy.' Affect can also mean emotional appearance, as in 'Her melancholy affect upset the child.' Effect is the result. 'The effect of the strong wind was many trees blew over.'

Another example of 'a' and 'e' mixing things up is stationary and stationery. Are you standing still? Then you are stationary. Are you writing a letter on pretty paper with a matching envelope? Then you are using stationery.

Last but not least, an extra 'e' goes a long way to change a letter. Take grill and grille. A grill is for cooking, and a grille is for keeping people out. A hamburger is cooked on a grill. A barred door is covered with a grille. These two are usually not confused, except by the owners of hamburger places who are striving to be cute.

Always be sure to use the correct homonym, and you will avoid some common mistakes of writers. Your writing will seem much more professional and polished.

A little about Elizabeth C.

She is a writer and an artist. She writes occasionally for her local newspaper. She sells her handmade crafts in her Etsy store, Lizbeth's Garden. Her beaded tassels are carried in a local gallery.

Follow her on Twitter: @lizbethsgarden

Check out her website HERE.

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