Last modified on 24 March 2012, at 18:37

Rhetoric and Composition/Homonyms

Homonyms can be tricky to figure out! The following examples of common homonym mistakes prove that spell-check can only go so far in helping to error proof your document.

Remember that two words that sound the same don't always have the same meaning. If you are ever in doubt which one to use, check your dictionary.


Affect, EffectEdit

  • Affect is most commonly a verb, usually meaning 'influence'. (An easy way to remember this is that 'affect' starts with an "a", as does 'action'.) As a noun, it is a psychological term for emotion.
  • Effect is most common as a noun meaning 'result'. 'Effect' used as a verb means 'bring about' some kind of change.
    • Example: The game affected the standings. Its effect was overwhelming. It effected a change in the affect of the winning team's captain.

Afterward, Afterwards, AfterwordEdit

  • Afterward and afterwards are synonymous adverbs meaning that an event occurs later than another.
  • An afterword is an epilogue.

Aid, AideEdit

  • Aid is a noun meaning 'assistance' or a verb meaning 'assist'.
  • An aide is a person who serves or offers assistance.
    • Example: "The aide will aid the victim."

It's, ItsEdit

  • It's is a contraction, short for either It is or It has.
  • Its is the possessive form of it. This usually means that the following noun phrase belongs to 'it'. It is important to recognise that 'its' the possessive form does not have an apostrophe - it is in the same category as 'his'.
    • Example: "It's (It is) my dog." "The computer crashed a few minutes ago, and it's (it has) done it again!" "What is its name?"

Lay, LieEdit

  • Lay is the action word.
  • Lie is the state of being or a telling someone something untruthful on purpose.
    • Example: "I will lay the book on the desk."
    • Example: "I plan to lie in bed most of Saturday."
    • Example: "Jim will probably lie to get out of being punished for breaking the window."

To, Too, TwoEdit

Figuring out which of these three forms have stumped more than one person! You can find a quick way to tell them apart below:
  • To is generally used to describe a relationship between things. It is also used as an infinitive verb, as in "I love to eat."
    • Example: "Matt is going to the doctor." "This gift is to you." "It is ten minutes to seven."
  • Too is usually used when you are describing an excess or is used when noting something is in addition
    • Example: "I usually eat too much on Thanksgiving." or "Joe cleaned the house, washed the car, and mowed the lawn, too.
  • Two is the word you use for the number 2.
    • Example: "You have two minutes left before class starts."

Then, ThanEdit

  • Then indicates time.
    • Example: "First we went to dinner, and then we went to the show."
  • Than is comparative.
    • Example: "I would rather see the comedy than see the horror movie."

Versus, VersesEdit

  • Versus indicates opposition.
  • Verses is the plural of verse, as related to poetry.