In today’s lesson on confusing words you will do some homophones practice. The word ‘homophone’ is of Ancient Greek origin, and means ‘same sound‘. Therefore, you will learn words that sound the same as other words, but have a different meaning and spelling.

Homophones are confusing words that result in English learners making common mistakes. To avoid making grammatical mistakes when writing, it is necessary to memorise the spelling and meaning differences between words in each set of homophones. Due to the diverse spellings, students often don’t realise that words in a set of homophones are pronounced the same.

Watching today’s lesson on homophones will clear up the confusion and will also remove some common mistakes from your English:

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Homophones Practice

The English language contains about 120 homophone sets; but don’t worry, you don’t need to learn them all! To make today’s lesson more likely to stick in your head, we will concentrate on learning homophones that contain the same sound. We will be learning homophone words that contain the /eɪ/ phoneme.

We will now learn and practise sets of homophone words with example sentences. Remember, all the words in a homophone set share the same pronunciation…

Rain, Reign and Rein

The words in this homophone set are all pronounced /reɪn/.

  1. rain 
    ‘I think it’s going to rain, have you got your umbrella?’ 
  2. reign
    This means the period of time that a King or Queen ruled. E.g. ‘The reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been very long.’ 
  3. reins /reɪnz/ (usually used in the plural, therefore not a full homophone)
    The reins are the leather strips of material that are used to control the movement of a horse: ‘Santa holds onto the reins to control the reindeer.’ 

Made and Maid

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /meɪd/.

  1. made
    Past tense of the verb ‘make’. ‘Have you made your bed yet?’
  2. maid
    A female worker that cleans a house or hotel room; ‘Has the maid cleaned the bathroom yet?’ Interestingly, there is no male equivalent term for this word. To be gender neutral, you can say ‘cleaner’ instead.

Mail and Male

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /meɪl/.

  1. mail
    This word refers to the post (packages or letters) that you receive. For example, ‘Has the mail arrived yet?’. In the UK, it is more natural for us to say, ‘Has the post arrived yet?’  
  2. male
    This adjective is the used to refer to the masculine sex, as in; ‘Is this kitten male or female?’ 

 Steak and Stake

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /steɪk/.

Pronunciation note: the word ‘steak’ is often mispronounced as ‘stick’ /stɪk/ by students of English, as in the thin piece of wood that falls from a tree. You must remember that there is a long vowel in ‘steak’ /steɪk/.

  1. steak 
    A slice of meat that is cut from an animal. Someone might ask you, ‘How do you like your steak cooked?’ 
  2. stake 
    This word has more than one meaning. The first kind of stake is what is used to kill a vampire, by putting it through its heart. The second meaning refers to having a financial share of something, e.g., ‘I have a 20% stake in that business.’

Confusing Words: Vain, Vein and Vane

The three words in this homophone set are pronounced /veɪn/.

  1. vain 
    A vain person is constantly looking in the mirror, e.g., ‘He is so vain’. 
  2. vein
    When you go to the hospital to get blood tests, blood is extracted via your vein. 
  3. vane
    This word has become obsolete, in the sense of not being used much anymore. A weather vane is used to tell which direction the wind is blowing. 

Main and Mane

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /meɪn/.

  1. main
    This means the most important or central thing. For example, ‘The main point of this blog is to teach you about homophones’.
  2. mane
    This is the long, thick hair that grows around the face and neck of a male lion. An example sentence is, ‘The lion groomed his orange mane’.

Whale and Wail

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /weɪl/.

  1. whale (pronunciation note: this word contains a silent ‘h’)
    A large mammal that lives in the ocean. An example sentence is, ‘A swimming whale blows air above the surface of the water’.
  2. wail
    This means to let out a very loud cry of pain or sadness, e.g.; ‘The woman let out a loud wail when she heard her son had died.’ Note that the word ‘wail’ has an archaic (old-fashioned) sense to it; more modern synonyms that we would typically use are to cry or scream.

Gate and Gait

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /geɪt/.

  1. gate
    A doorway on a wall or fence. For example, ‘The children opened the gate and entered the garden’. 
  2. gait
    The word ‘gait’ isn’t used much in everyday conversation. It is used to refer to the way a person walks. E.g., ‘The pirate’s wooden leg gave him an uneven gait’.

Confusing Words: Stationary or Stationery

This confusing pair of words causes common mistakes for native speakers and English students alike! Notice that the words differ in spelling by a single letter:

  1. stationary
    The word ‘stationary’ is a formal adjective for describing something that doesn’t move; for example, ‘The train is stationary at the station’. It should be pronounced with three syllables → /ˈsteɪ.ʃən.ri/.
  2. stationery
    The word ‘stationery’ is a broad term for office or writing materials. An example sentence is, ‘Children are expected to bring their own stationery to school’ (this means they should bring their own pens and pencils with them). 

Memory Tip: The words pen and pencil are spelt with the letter ‘e‘. Similarly, the word stationery is spelt with an ‘e‘. Try and make that stick in your mind for future spelling reference.

Pray and Prey

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /preɪ/.

This means to say a prayer, in a religious sense. ‘Put your hands together and pray.’ 

Prey is a word that refers to something that is being hunted. For example, a lion (predator) hunts a zebra (prey).

Memory Tip: the words predator and prey are both spelled with a letter ‘e‘. Therefore when referring to something that is being hunted, always spell the word with an ‘e’ → ‘prey’.

Waste and Waist

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /weɪst/.

  1. waste
    Waste is another word for rubbish; ‘Throw your waste away.’
  2. waist
    This is a part of the body just below the ribs. For example, ‘she has a slim waist’. 

Ate and Eight

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /eɪt/.

  1. ate
    The word ‘ate’ is the irregular past tense verb of ‘eat’. An example sentence is, ‘They ate dinner together yesterday’. Note that there are two pronunciations of this word; some people pronounce it as /et/.
  2. eight
    This word is the number 8. Now say the sentence, ‘Eight men ate their breakfast at the hotel this morning’. Note that ‘ate’ and ‘eight’ should sound the same in the previous sentence.

Confusing English Words: Navel and Naval

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /ˈneɪ.vəl/.

  1. navel
    This word is a formal or medical word for ‘belly button’. An example sentence is, ‘In mammals, the navel marks the spot where the umbilical cord was attached to the mother’.

2. naval
This is a term is related to the word ‘navy’, which refers to military forces that operate at sea.  E.g., ‘The officers travelled back to the naval base.’

Memory Tip: A good way to remember the appropriate spelling for ‘naval’ is to think of the word ‘admiral’ (naval officer), which is spelt with two letter a’s. Similarly, the word ‘naval’ is also spelt with two a’s. 

Bail and Bale

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /beɪl/.

  1. bail
    In the UK, someone who has been ‘released on bail’ has been released from police custody for a period of time before they have to appear in court. In American English, the word ‘bail’ typically refers to the amount of money that can be paid to temporarily release a person from police custody, until the time of their trial.
  2. bale
    The second meaning refers to a bale of hay, which is found in the countryside. It is cut and dried grass gathered together for animal food and/or bedding. 

Pain and Pane

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /peɪn/.

  1. pain
    Pain is the physical suffering that is caused by an illness or injury. For example, someone might say; ‘I need medical attention because I’m in a lot of pain.’  
  2. pane
    A pane is a sheet of glass that is used to make a window or a door. An example sentence is, ‘It’s going to cost £200 to replace the smashed pane of glass in my door’.

Weight and Wait

The words in this homophone set are both pronounced /weɪt/.

  1. weight 
    This term is used to refer to how heavy something/someone is. Your doctor might say to you; ‘You have gained some weight recently’.
  2. wait
    This means to delay doing something until someone comes or something happens. For example, ‘I had to wait a long time for my train’. 

Thank you for reading and/or watching today’s lesson on homophones!

Extend Your Learning: More Confusing Words

▶︎ Learn the difference between confusing English words: wonder vs wander

▶︎ Are you using confusing question words correctly? Do my lesson on inquiry, enquiry and query.

▶︎ A lesson on confusing phrasal verbs: go back vs come back.


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