Last month I wrote about how to proofread your own work. I’d like to add one more piece of advice: Do not rely on your computer’s spell check program to proofread for you. These programs are great, but they don’t catch every mistake. Pay particular attention to homophones – words that sound the same but are spelled differently – as you read over your document for mistakes.
Here are some common homophone pairs that trip people up plus some tricks to help you remember what’s what.
Allude and elude
Allude: (verb) To make a reference to something else
Elude: (verb) To escape or evade something
How to remember it: The first letter will remind you which is which: To elude something is to escape or evade it.
Carat and karat
Carat: (noun) Unit of weight for diamonds and other stones; in the U.K. and many other countries, it also refers to the measure of gold purity
Karat: (noun) In the U.S., the preferred spelling for the unit of measure of gold purity
How to remember it: Take care of your heavy high-carat diamond. Also, remember there’s no pure gold belt in karate.
Complementary and complimentary
Complement: (noun) Something that makes another thing whole
Compliment: (noun) A kind remark
How to remember it: A complement completes something else. Give a compliment when you like something.
Councilor and counselor
Councilor: (noun) A member of a council (note: “councilman” and “councilwoman” are commonly used instead, depending on gender)
Counselor: (noun) One who counsels (similar to a therapist)
How to remember it: Help yourself by seeing a counselor.
Discreet and discrete
Discreet: (adjective) Secretive, tactful, or diplomatic
Discrete: (adjective) Separate or distinct
How to remember it: You keep a secret by being discreet.
Forego and forgo
Forego: (verb) To precede
Forgo: (verb) To give up or abstain from
How to remember it: Go before when you forego. Forge ahead when you forgo.
Palate, palette, and pallet
Palate: (noun) Sense of taste; the roof of the mouth
Palette: (noun) A board painters use to hold colors; a range of colors
Pallet: (noun) Platform on which to store and transport things
How to remember it: When you ate you used your palate. A pallet can store all kinds of things.
Pore and pour
Pore: (verb) To study closely; also (noun) A small opening in the skin
Pour: (verb) To release a liquid or similar in a stream
How to remember it: Pour the water out. Pore over something to learn more.
Principal and principle
Principal: (noun) Head of a school; the original portion of invested money; (adjective) Primary or head
Principle: (noun) A rule, law, or assumption
How to remember it: The principal is your pal. (I learned this one in grade school!)
Stationary and stationery
Stationary: (adjective) Fixed in position, unmoving
Stationery: (noun) Letter-writing supplies (paper, envelopes, etc.)
How to remember it: You write a letter on stationery.
Homophones and Apostrophes
Just remember that in the following words, the apostrophe is holding the place of missing letters.
It’s and its
It’s: “It is”
Its: Of or belonging to it
Let’s and lets
Let’s: “Let us”
Lets: Permits or allows; rents out
Who’s and whose
Who’s: “Who is”
Whose: Of or belonging to the person “who” refers to
You’re and your
You’re: “You are”
Your: Of or belonging to you
Why stop now? Learn more about using apostrophes correctly.