Last month I started my blog series on common writing mistakes – the first was commas. The next most frequent mistake I see is homonyms. Below are the most common culprits… make sure you’re using the right ones!
I’m starting with this one because anyone with a foreword in their book had better spell it correctly! LOL. Seriously though, when people preview your book and the first thing they see is a typo — goodbye book sale. It is a foreword. A word to your readers before the story starts.
Forward is a direction.
lying, laying, lied, laid, lay
Wow, do I see this one wrong a lot! The confusion comes from what meaning of lie you’re using, and what verb tense. Here they are:
|Verb tense||To lie (tell an untruth)||To lie down||To lay (put) something down|
|Present tense||I lie to my parents on a regular basis||I lie down||I lay down the plate|
|Past perfect||I lied to him yesterday||I lay down||I laid the table.|
|Pluperfect||I had lied to her many times before||I had just lain down when the doorbell rang||I had laid them to rest the day before|
Past is an word that plays lots of roles (noun, adjective, adverb), whereas to pass is a verb (pass the salt, I passed my test).
Noun: Marty McFly travelled back to the past.
Adjective: In times past, we didn’t have cell phones.
Adjective: I walked past the library. My house is just past the school.
Just remember that passed can only be a verb, which means that it will have a subject right in front of it:
I passed him in the street. He passed his exams. She passed by without even seeing me. He passed out from exhaustion.
losing, loosing / lose, loose
To lose is a verb. Loose is an adjective (describes something). The confusion probably arises because there is also a verb to loosen.
Lose means something is missing: You lose your car keys, your wallet, your sanity.
Loose describes something: my pants are loose, the rope had come loose.
Now, if you’ve tied someone up, you can loosen the rope.
The way to remember it: you are doing the losing, or loosening: I lose my car keys daily; I loosen my belt after I eat.
Loose describes something else: the bolt is loose, he has a few screws loose.
And always remember: there is no such word as loosing!
peak, peek, pique
Peek is a verb: I peeked through the shutters.
Peak is a noun: The mountain peak, the peak of his career.
Now, the sneaky one is pique, which can be a noun (meaning: a feeling of irritation or resentment) or a verb (to stimulate).
Noun: In a fit of pique, she flounced a way.
Verb: It piqued my interest.
If you can memorize those last two sentences, you’ll always use ‘pique’ correctly!
rain, rein, reign
I’m not sure why people confuse these so often; they are very different!
Rain is weather.
When you ride horse, you hold the reins. (And from this comes the metaphor of reining someone in.)
A king or queen reigns.
Remember, a leek is a vegetable – and nothing else! Leak is when something isn’t watertight.
The tap has a leak. He leaked information to the FBI.
She made potato and leek soup.
Breach means to break something; They breached the kingdom’s defences. It was a breach of contract.
Breech is the lower or rear part of something (human body, gun, machinery).
Breeches are something you wear – on your rear! (You’ll also see it as ‘britches’).
A breech birth or breech delivery is when a baby’s feet or buttocks appear first, rather than the head.
use to, used to
There is no such phrase as ‘use to’!
I used to play hockey but stopped because of an injury.
Wonder is to imagine; wander is to walk aimlessly. The confusion probably arises because of the expression my mind wandered, meaning your thinking goes off in no particular direction.
I wandered down the path. Math class was boring as usual, so my mind wandered.
I wonder if I will ever enjoy math?
One is a noun (a small bottle); the other is an adjective.
She held a vial of poison.
He is a vile and reprehensible person.
Clothes are what you wear; cloths are pieces of fabric that you clean with.
She mopped up the spill with several cloths.
She wears expensive clothes.
This one is confusing because ‘lead’ is another word that can play several roles (verb, noun, adjective), and the past tense of the verb ‘to lead’ is ‘led’. Just remember, ‘led’ is always in the past. The rest are all ‘lead’.
Verb: I will lead my party to victory. Last year, I led them to victory.
Noun: Lead is a type of metal.
Adjective: He got the lead role in the movie.
Four is a number.
The front and back of a boat are referred to as fore and aft.
Fore is also what you shout before you swing your golf club.
Four refers to the number four: He came fourth in the contest.
Forth refers to direction (same as the previous definition) – to go forth.
I’ve saved this one for last because it is a bit of a toughie – the distinction between the two is quite fine. Originally, both refer to a method of fishing. From Wikipedia: Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water. Trolling can be phonetically confused with trawling, a different method of fishing where a net (trawl) is drawn through the water instead of lines.
They also, confusingly, mean to search, but in different ways.
From grammarist: Troll for means to patrol or wander about an area in search of something. Trawl for means to search through or gather from a variety of sources.
We also use trolling to describe searching/browsing on the internet, but usually in a negative way: scammers trolling for people’s personal and financial information.
He trolled the internet for people to lure to his fake PayPal site.
She trawled through his possessions looking for something that would convict him.
And there is of course, this type of troll – but he doesn’t seem to cause as much confusion.
|Troll, the noun||A hominid – not to be confused with a homonym!|
OK, that was a long post – but make sure you do know these! They’ll set apart a book that hasn’t been proofread properly from one that has.