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.

An old desktop computer

Don’t rely on your computer’s spell check program

Here are some common homophone pairs that trip people up plus some tricks to help you remember what’s what.

How-to Homophones

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.

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