Which Witch is Which?

At the end of a recent episode of Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak mentioned that the gameshow’s online shop sold stationery. He went on to say that a lot of people don’t know how to spell the term, because it is pronounced the same way as the word stationary. Vanna White added that one way to remember the difference is that writing stationery uses an “e” for envelope.

Stationery/stationary is one of many examples of homophone—words with the same pronunciation but different meanings. We navigate these words every day, and most of us know the difference between many homophones without even thinking about it—berry versus bury; genes versus jeans; gorilla versus guerilla; pause versus paws . . . the list goes on. Even some of the three-way homophones—like praise/prays/preys or toad/toed/towed—don’t give us pause.

But there are plenty of other homophones that give even the best of us trouble. We can all use hints to help us remember some of the trickier pairs. Here are a few I use:

  • • Accept/except: Except refers to exc
  • • Afterward/forward and afterword/foreword: We at TalentMEDIA encounter this one often. An easy trick is to remember “word” is included in the spellings that refer to a discussion—either an epilogue or a prologue.
  • • Bazaar/bizarre: For the latter, which means out of the ordinary, rearranging the last four letters spells “rare.”
  • • Censer/censor/sensor: A censer is a container of incense or the person carrying it. For sensor, meaning something that detects, think “sens
  • • Cite/sight/site: Cite refers to a cit The latter two spellings can both refer to a place, but think of the sense of sight for the middle spelling: A sight refers specifically to a place worth seeing.
  • • Compliment/complement: To complement means to complete or add to something.
  • • Disburse/disperse. Both can mean to distribute something, but disburse refers to money in particular—think “reimburse.”
  • • Dual/duel: To remember that duel refers to a conflict, think of “cruel.”
  • • Elicit/illicit: Remember that Illicit means not allowed or unlawful—think “ill
  • • Forego/forgo: This pair has always tripped me up. My trick is to remember that the spelling that “goes without” the “e” means to go without.
  • • Foul/fowl. To remember that the latter refers to birds, note it contains the word “owl”
  • • Hardy/hearty: The former means capable of withstanding harsh conditions—it contains the word “hard.” The latter means enthusiastic, jovial, or healthy—it contains the word “heart.”
  • • Hear/here: The former, which refers to auditory perception, contains the word “ear.”
  • • Miner/minor: A miner is a person who works in a mine.
  • • Than/then: For then, which gives a sense of time or sequence, think—when.


Tricks such as these can save you from flipping through a dictionary every time you come across a troublesome homophone. And remember—spell-check will NOT catch these for you!

Do you have any tricks you use to help with homophones or other word pairs?


For more on troublesome word pairs and the importance of using the right term, see TalentMEDIA’s August 22, 2017 blog: “Not Proofreading Your Work Really Could Have Global Consequences,” http://vectortalent.com/talentmedia-not-proofreading-work-really-global-consequences/.

Written by Mary Bruzzese, Editorial Project Manager at Vector TalentMEDIA. For more information about how TalentMEDIA’s editorial team can help you, contact Mary at mary@vectortalent.com.