english-homophones

The Bare Necessities: 25 Pairs of English Homophones You’ll Need in Life

English pronunciation can be pretty weird.

If you’ve been learning English for even a short amount of time, you’ve probably noticed that, right?

Maybe you were surprised to discover that the number “two” was pronounced the same as the word “to.”

Or when you started learning the past tense, perhaps you thought it was strange that “ate” was pronounced the same as the number “eight.”

Believe me, this can also be strange and confusing for native English speakers, so you’re not alone.

Or is it “your not alone”? No, I’m just kidding, I did mean to say “you’re not alone,” but it’s true that you can find many examples of native speakers confusing sets of words like “you’re” and “your.”

Words like these, which sound the same but have different meanings, are called homophones. In this post, you’re going to learn over 25 pairs of homophones that you’ll definitely want to know. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the meaning of the word “homophone.”

What Is a Homophone?

As mentioned above, sets of words like “you’re” and “your” are called homophones. The root of that word, homo-, means “same,” and the root phone- means “sound.” Homophones are two words that sound the same, but have different meanings. So the words “two” and “to” are homophones, as are “ate” and “eight.”

There’s another word that begins with homo-, which native speakers often confuse with homophone: homonym. Again, the root homo- means “same,” but –nym means “name.” A homonym is a single word (with one spelling) that has more than one meaning.

An example of a homonym is the word “bear.” You probably know about the animal called a “bear,” but the word “bear” can also be a verb that means to tolerate. For example, “I’m so nervous about watching this game, I can’t bear to watch the last minute!” But today we’ll just focus on homophones.

Why Does English Have so Many Homophones?

A word’s pronunciation in English may not always be the same as its spelling. French is also similar in this way, because there can be multiple words with one pronunciation.

Chinese homophones are also really interesting. There’s even a famous Chinese story where every single word is some variation of the word “shi”!

Other languages, like Spanish or German, for example, are more consistent with spelling and pronunciation. In those languages, words usually sound like they’re spelled. Still, even those languages have some homophones at least. The point is that basically every language has homophones, so try not to get frustrated when you’re learning them.

However, English does have many vowel sounds, many silent letters, and lots of words that come from many other different languages. As a result, there are also lots of homophones in English.

To help you learn these, we’ve put together some cool tips, plus a handy list of some of the most common homophones in English.

How Can You Learn English Homophones?

There’s a popular saying in English: “Practice makes perfect.” That means that if you want to become an expert at something (like learning homophones or even English in general), you have to practice a lot. Fortunately, if you want to practice homophones, there are many ways to do so.

Vocabulary notebook

This is probably the easiest way to practice, and if you already have a piece of paper and a pen/pencil, it’s free!

If my students ask for ways to improve their vocabulary, I often suggest that they should always keep a small vocabulary notebook with them. I did this when I was learning German and Spanish, and you can do the same.

Every time you hear a new word or phrase, write it down in your notebook. You can also write down a definition, a synonym or an example sentence. All of those pieces will help you remember the word.

Naturally, you can use this same notebook for homophones. It might help to make a separate list or a separate section for homophones, but you can use whatever system works best for you.

Especially if you’re a visual learner or a person who learns things by writing them down (like I do), then this technique is a great way to add words to your English vocabulary.

Books with homophones

There are some books that specifically focus on homophones in a fun way. Two popular ones are “A Chocolate Moose for Dinner” and “The King Who Rained,” both by Fred Gwynne. Another is “Dear Deer” by Gene Barretta. You can find these books at bookstores or online, but it may be hard to find digital copies, since they’re a bit old.

There are also videos of people reading the books (here are the videos for “A Chocolate Moose for Dinner,” “The King Who Rained” and “Dear Deer”), but unfortunately the video quality isn’t that good. Still, you can follow the stories and see some examples of fun wordplay using homophones.

Songs and sites online

As with so many things, the Internet can be a wonderful resource for learning English! You can find more information about the books I mentioned above, and there are also other sites and videos that people have made to help you learn homophones.

There are funny (and weird) videos like this homophone song video and this ballad between a man and a lion. Or, if you have 46 minutes, you’re welcome to watch this great but really long video that combines tons of English homophones, including their pronunciation! I’ll also include some links to videos and websites that can help with specific homophone sets in our list of homophones below.

Finally, there are other sites that can help you learn homophones. One that I recommend is called Grammarist.com. It includes other topics in addition to homophones, but it often features homophone sets. Plus, the other vocabulary is usually relevant to news events, so it’s a great general site if you want to build up your vocabulary.

25 Sets of English Homophones All English Learners Should Know

Depending on how long you’ve been learning English, you may know a lot of these already. But I created this list so that even high-level English learners can find some new or interesting words. So hopefully there will be at least a few words that you didn’t know before!

For each set of words, I’ll include a short definition and an example of the words in use. Then I’ll include an interesting note related to the words, like a similar word or a link to a video, comic or website.

One more note, and then I promise we’ll get to the homophones. Most of these are homophones in any dialect of English, but because of small pronunciation differences, there are some words that are homophones in American English but not in British English, and vice-versa.

Also, there are a few homophones that are more common in American English than in British English, and vice-versa. You can find a list of specifically British homophones here, but again, most of them are also homophones in American English. Phew! Don’t worry if that sounded complicated, we’ll only focus on clear homophones today.

1. ate, eight

ate (verb): This is the simple past tense of the verb “to eat.”

I ate an entire pizza and now I’m really full and tired.

eight (noun): The number after seven and before nine.

Charles will wake up at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.

Interesting note: There is a popular children’s joke that goes like this:

Q: Why was 6 afraid of 7?

A: Because 7 ate 9. 

Yes, it’s pronounced “because 7 8 9,” and yes, it’s a pretty bad joke. But most kids’ jokes are bad.

2. bare, bear

bare (adjective): If something is bare, it means that it’s not covered or not decorated.

Tom likes to walk around his house in bare feet. He says it’s more comfortable than wearing shoes.

bear (noun): A large mammal.

When you go camping, you should be careful to not leave any food or anything with a scent in your tent because they can attract bears.

Interesting note: Bears are often popular characters in stories and cartoons.

3. buy, by, bye

to buy (verb): A synonym of “to purchase.” It’s probably one of the first verbs you learned.

I forgot my money at home. Do you think you could buy me lunch and I’ll pay you back tomorrow?

by (preposition): This can be used in many different ways. It’s commonly used to mean “next to” or “near” when describing a location. It can also indicate who created something.

My favorite autobiography is “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” It’s written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. 

bye (exclamation): This is a shortening of “goodbye.”

I’ve got to go now, so bye! See you on Sunday!

Interesting note: This is a set of three homophones, but you could also possibly include the prefix “bi-.” It means “two,” as in “bipedal” (something that uses two legs), but it can also be an adjective as an abbreviation for “bisexual.”  So if you include “bi,” then this can actually be a set of four homophones!

4. cell, sell

cell (noun): A cell is a small area or room, usually in a prison. A cell can also be one of the smallest divisions of a living organism.

The prisoner spent 10 years in his cell.

to sell (verb): To exchange a product or service for money. Like “buy,” it was probably one of the first verbs you learned.

We would like to sell our car, but we don’t think we’d get very much money for it.

Interesting note: Monks (men) and nuns (women) are two groups of religious people who live in monasteries or convents. Their rooms are also called “cells,” and they actually do look a bit similar to a prison cell!

5. dew, do, due

dew (noun): Dew is the name for small drops of water that accumulate (gather) on plants and other objects outside during the night.

When I went outside early in the morning, the dew on the grass made my shoes wet.

to do (verb): This common verb is used to indicate an action. It can also be an auxiliary verb.

What do you usually do on Friday nights?

due (adjective): This is used to indicate the deadline (final day) that something can happen. It’s also used to indicate when a baby will probably be born.

My friend is pregnant. Her baby is due in October.

Interesting note: The soft drink company Mountain Dew played with this homophone set with its motto “Do the Dew.

6. eye, I

eye (noun): The part of your body that you use to see.

My eyes hurt when I read. I think I need a pair of glasses.

I (pronoun): A first person singular subject pronoun.

I really hope you know what this word means.

Interesting note: This can actually be a three-word homophone if you include the word “aye.” That’s an old-fashioned way of saying “yes.” You might hear people on boats show that they’re following an order by saying “Aye-aye, captain!” And there’s a strange-looking animal called an “aye-aye,” also. I learned that just a minute ago, so even native speakers learn new words every day!

7. fairy, ferry

fairy (noun): A mythical creature that can often do magic.

There is a fairy named Tinkerbell in the story “Peter Pan.”

ferry (noun): A ferry is a boat that moves passengers and vehicles across water. It’s used for long distances or places where there are no bridges.

The ferry in Costa Rica is really hot and incredibly badly organized. At least the trip only takes an hour.

Interesting note: There is a common mythical fairy in some parts of the world called the Tooth Fairy. She’s especially popular in the USA. The story is that when a child loses a tooth, he or she should put the tooth under their pillow. Then, while they sleep, the Tooth Fairy will replace the tooth with a coin.

8. flour, flower

flour (noun): This is the main ingredient in bread. It’s a powder made from ground grains.

Tony wanted to make a cake, but he didn’t have any flour, so he couldn’t.

flower (noun): The decorative, colorful part of a plant.

If you want to give flowers to somebody you love, avoid white roses. They are often given when someone dies.

Interesting note: In some languages, there is an element that has a name similar to “flour.” But in English, the element is called “fluoride,” and the “u” is silent.

9. for, four

for (preposition): This preposition is usually used to indicate a person who receives something, or to indicate a purpose.

We wanted to buy a chocolate cake for Cheryl’s birthday. The bakery didn’t have any chocolate cakes for sale, though, so we got vanilla instead.

four (noun): The number after three and before five.

The Beatles, one of the most famous bands ever, had four members: George, John, Paul and Ringo.

Interesting note: This is another set of homophones that can also include a third: If you’re playing golf, you should yell “Fore!” right before you hit the ball. This warns other people to look out for your ball.

10. hear, here

to hear (verb): This is the action that you do with your ears. The sense is called “hearing.”

I can’t hear the TV. Can you please turn up the volume?

here (adverb): “Here” indicates the place where you are at any moment. It’s the opposite of “there,” basically.

Can you set the boxes down over here please? Yes, right here next to the door.

Interesting note: The expression “Hear, hear!” is used to indicate that you agree with something. But it’s usually used in formal situations, and it’s not very common in modern English.

11. hour, our

hour (noun): A period of time that lasts 60 minutes.

It takes about six hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

our (pronoun): This is the possessive pronoun form of “we.”

We should study for our exams.

Interesting note: Depending on a speaker’s accent and the way they’re using the word, these two might not always sound like homophones. Also, to make things more confusing, the word “our” is sometimes pronounced as a homophone to “are.”

12. know, no

to know (verb): To have knowledge or understanding about something.

Reggie knows how to speak French.

no (determiner): This indicates a negation or something that’s not true.

There is no good reason to listen to Justin Bieber.

Interesting note: This pair of words made me think of some interesting songs. Radiohead has a song called “A Punchup at a Wedding (No no no no no no no no),” Beirut has one called “No No No” and Destiny’s Child has two songs called “No, No, No” (part 1 and part 2. Personally, I like part 2 better).

Also, I discovered that there is a Swedish band (that sings in English) called NONONO. See, you learn something new every day!

13. knight, night

knight (noun): A man given a special honor (or rank) by a king or queen. Their title is usually “Sir.”

One popular English legend talks about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

night (noun): The period of time when it’s dark and most people sleep.

I prefer to work at night, since it’s quieter and not as hot. I can concentrate better.

Interesting note: There was a popular TV show in the 1980s called “Knight Rider,” but many people thought it was “Night Rider.” It was actually called “Knight Rider” because the main character, played by David Hasselhoff, was named Michael Knight.

Also, an additional fun note: I live in Costa Rica, and here “Knight Rider” was called “El Auto Fantástico,” or “The Fantastic Car”!

14. mail, male

(to) mail (verb or noun): As a noun, this is a collective noun for letters and packages. As a verb, this means to send something to somebody. Email also comes from this word.

I haven’t gotten the mail yet today, but I was expecting a letter from grandma. Can you please check the mailbox?

male (adjective or noun): An adjective (or noun) indicating that something is masculine or has masculine reproductive organs.

People always ask if our cat is pregnant. I tell them he can’t be, since he’s a male. He’s just fat.

Interesting note: In British English, they usually use the word “post” as a verb or a noun, instead of “mail.”

15. marry, merry

to marry (verb): The action when two people have a wedding; also called “to get married.”

My grandpa told me to be sure to marry a good woman.

merry (adjective): A synonym for “happy,” but less common in modern English. Mostly used in phrases like “Merry Christmas!”

I don’t like to go shopping in December because the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” always gets stuck in my head.

Interesting note: This is another example of a three-word homophone set, if you include the name “Mary.”

16. meat, meet

meat (noun): Edible flesh from an animal.

Vegetarians don’t eat meat.

to meet (verb): When you are introduced to a person for the first time. It can also refer to later meetings.

I’m excited to travel to England so I can meet some new people!

Interesting note: In English, you can generally only meet people, but not places. If you want to talk about seeing a place for the first time, you could say something like “I want to see Paris,” “I want to go to Paris,” or “I want to visit Paris.” But we generally don’t use the words “meet” or “know” with places.

17. pair, pear

pair (noun): A set of two things that go together.

Most of these examples of homophone sets are pairs of words, but some are groups of three or four words.

pear (noun): A delicious fruit.

I wanted to buy pears for my fruit salad, but they only had winter pears. I don’t like winter pears very much because they’re hard, so I got peaches instead.

Interesting note: This can also be a set of three words if you include the less-common verb to pare. It means to cut something to make it smaller.

18. right, write

right (adjective): This can mean either a synonym of “correct” or the opposite of “left.”

I should turn right when I get to 10th Street, right?

to write (verb): The action of making words or marks to represent ideas.

Jerry’s dream is to write a novel, but he hasn’t decided what the book should be about.   

Interesting note: This can be yet another homophone set of three words if you include “rite,” which is a ceremony or ritual. There is also a common last name “Wright,” which is pronounced the same as “right,” “write” and “rite.”

19. sight, site

sight (noun): This is the sense that you use when you see or look.

Blind people can’t see. They have no sight.

site (noun): This is a synonym for “place.” The most common modern use is in the word “website.”

There’s an awesome site for language learners. It’s www.fluentu.com.

Interesting note: You guessed it: This can be another three-word set if you include the word “to cite,” which means “to reference.” For example, it’s commonly used in academic papers that have citations of other books.

20. son, sun

son (noun): A male child.

Grandma and grandpa had four sons and three daughters.

sun (noun): The star at the center of our solar system. It’s that big yellow thing in the sky during the day.

Don’t look directly at the sun, or you’ll damage your eyes. You may even lose your eyesight!

Interesting note: Don’t forget that the word “sons” only indicates males, and “daughters” is just females. If you want to indicate “sons and daughters” with only one word, you can say “children” (even if you’re talking about adults).

21. their, there, they’re

their (pronoun): The possessive pronoun for the subject “they.”

We should study for our English exam, and they should study for their German exam.

there (adverb): Remember the word “here” above? This is basically the opposite of that. “There” can refer to any place where you are not at.

Who is that over there? Is that Jane? If so, I hope she comes over here, since I want to talk to her.

they’re (contraction): This is a contraction of the phrase “they are.”

The children all passed their exams, so they’re very happy!

Interesting note: This is a bit funny, because this set of homophones actually seems to cause more trouble for native speakers than it does for English learners. There are even some great videos that are designed for native speakers, but people still get confused.

22. to, too, two

to (preposition): This usually indicates a direction that something is moving.

Every day Paul and Judy drive together to school. 

too (adverb): “Too” can usually either mean “also,” or it can indicate that there is more of something than necessary (and it’s usually a problem).

I’m too full to finish this plate of food. I’ll ask the waiter if we can have a container to take it home. And I’ll ask for the bill, too.

two (noun): The number after one and before three.

Most homophone sets have two words, but some have three or four.

Interesting note: This is another set of homophones that confuse native speakers, too. But of course there are some fun videos available to help you!

23. one, won

one (noun): The number after zero and before two.

The musical group Three Dog Night said that one was the loneliest number.

won (verb): “Won” is the simple past and past participle form of the verb “to win.”

Grandpa won $500 in his poker game!

Interesting note: When you use a form of the verb “to win,” you can either indicate the event or the prize, but not the opponent. If you want to indicate the opponent, use the verb “to beat.” So in the example above, you could say “grandpa won $500″ or “grandpa won the poker game,” but you would say “grandpa beat all of his poker friends.”

24. wait, weight

to wait (verb): This means to stay in one place or to anticipate something.

It was snowing a lot, so the bus came late. I had to wait in the cold for 20 minutes.

weight (noun): This word indicates how heavy something is.

Every year around Christmas, many people gain a lot of weight because they eat lots of food but don’t exercise. 

Interesting note: If you want to determine a person or an object’s weight, then the verb is “to weigh.” The machine you use to weigh something is called a scale.

25. wear, where

to wear (verb): To have clothing or accessories on your body.

I hate wearing ties. They’re uncomfortable, hot, and hard to tie. Do you wear ties?

where (interrogative): A question word used to ask for a location.

Where should we meet for dinner? Personally, I’d like to meet at the new Chinese restaurant in town.

Interesting note: Since this is our last set for this article, of course I’ll include another word for this homophone set: “ware.” It’s a suffix that indicates objects that are related. For example, stores often have housewares and kitchenware departments that sell things to use in your home or kitchen.

 

That’s it for today’s list! I hope that you learned some new words—I know I did! Happy learning!


Ryan Sitzman teaches English and sometimes German in Costa Rica. He is passionate about learning, coffee, traveling, languages, writing, photography, books, and movies, but not necessarily in that order. You can learn more or connect with him through his website Sitzman ABC.

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