Little did William Goldman know when he penned The Princess Bride, that he had given a line to the Spaniard Inigo Montoya that would eventually become the mantra of an entire generation of word nerds. To date, this memorable phrase has spawned innumerable memes and comments on social media. The line?
But why is it so easy to use the wrong word? Well, while the English language is technically a Germanic language, its modern incarnations are a veritable hodgepodge of words with different origins and derivations. Because of this, our language is replete with many different homophones — words that sound alike but have different meanings.
In fact, one of my favorite jokes about the language is this:
English doesn’t steal from other languages. Instead, it follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them out, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar!
Homophones are very common in English, which can create great humor but can also create horrible writing. Even knowing the difference between different types of homophones can get confusing. What is the difference between Homonyms and Homographs? What are Heteronyms? What are Heterographs? (Check out the infographic below for the answers to these questions!)
Unfortunately, even knowing the differences between types of homophones won’t always keep you from using the wrong word in your writing. That’s why it is critical to double check and even triple check your word usage and to proofread your writing before publication whether it’s on the web or elsewhere. After all, while spell check software is great, it can seldom recognize when you use the wrong word as long as the word you use is also a real word. For example, your spell check generally won’t tell you that you used the word witch instead of which. And, like with Grammatical Errors, confused words can kill your content.
That’s why I’ve put together this infographic to help you check some of the most commonly confused homophones and other commonly confused words (e.g. definitely vs. defiantly). Just remember: