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Grammar Basics: Homonyms

Grammar Basics: Homonyms

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This packet should review:

-Definition of homonym
-Examples of homonyms
-Memory tips for frequently used homonyms
-Definition of mnemonic device
-Examples of mnemonic devices
-Related terms with definitions and examples

This packet reviews definitions and examples of both homonyms and mnemonic devices. Further, memory tips are offered for frequently used (or confused) homonyms. Any related terms are defined and discussed as needed. These goals are achieved through the use of an informative and thought-provoking slide show presentation, several video clips offering real-world, easy-to-remember examples, and the inclusion of a list of websites for further study.

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Commonly Confused Homonyms

This slide show presentation offers examples and sample sentences for commonly confused homonyms, as well as definitions and helpful hints for other commonly confused words.

Source: See slide show for citation

The Homonym Song

This is a hilarious, entertaining, and enlightening song giving examples of unexpected homonyms. Enjoy!

Source: YouTube

Zoom: The Homonym Game

This is an opportunity for you to play along and hone your homonym skills! In a homonym game presented by the childrens' television show "Zoom," several great examples of homonyms are offered. See how many you can guess as you watch.

For another homonym game presented by "Zoom" that offers more homonym practice, visit or the "Grammar Basic: Synonyms" packet at

Source: YouTube

Helpful Tips and Mnemonic Devices for Homonyms

For more examples of homonyms and mnemonic devices for how to remember them correctly, visit the "Grammar Basics: Synonyms" packet at:

Spelling Tricks: Homonyms

Published December 09, 2009 by:
 When I was a kid, my teacher used to give us tricks and tips for remembering how to spell. When we got the word "principal" on our weekly spelling list, she said we could remember the
 difference between this one and another word that sounded the same - principle - because this one ended with the letters PAL and the principal of our school was our pal!

Well, that spelling trick dramatically broadened the possibilities of memory tricks for me because the principal was no pal of mine! For the first time, I realized that any sort of association could be used to help me remember something and the association didn't have to be accurate. Needless to say, I have never misspelled either principal or principle. In addition, I now have all sorts of associations and tricks I've used over the years to remember all kinds of things.

As a college English professor, I've taught my fair share of composition classes. I am surprised by the number of spelling mistakes that high school graduates still make, so I decided to take some of the more common spelling mistakes and provide memory tricks so my students and others can finally get it rigt. In this article, I've included tricks for four sets of homonyms that are most often misspelled.

accept / except

Accept is to receive something. Note that there are two Cs in the word. The letter "C" sounds like the verb "to see". OK. So I see and you see the object being exchanged between us. Here's an example: The client accepted our bid. First we had to see (C) the bid as we created it, then the client had to see (C) the bid, then it was accepted.

Except begins with EX meaning to out something. So everything but the one whatever is out. Here's an example: Everything is finished except the invitations. This means that on the list of all that had to be done, it's all completed (checked off, out of the picture) except the one thing - invitations.

advice / advise

The difference between these two words is the "S" and the "C", so that is the focus of the memory trick.Advice is when you give your two cents worth of your thoughts to someone. It is usually no big deal, but you just feel you need to put your two cents worth into the discussion. Note that cents begins with a "C". There's
 your memory trick. Here's an example: His advice is to take the short cut. Take it or leave it, it's just his advice.

Advise is an action and actions are serious. If you ask for someone's opinion, it is usually because you are in some sort of a quandary and you need someone to help you. This is a more serious matter than someone just giving you an opinion. Serious starts with "S" and something serious requires action - someone to advise you. Example: He advised us to take the short cut. In other words, you'd better take the short cut!

personal / personnel

Your memory trick in these two words is the double "n". In the case of the single "n" it means one on one, direct contact; this one is personal. In the case of the double "n" however, it means a group of people who work for a company. So one "n" means one and the double "n" means more than one. Here is one example that covers both words: The boss wants to have a personal conversation with all of the company's personnel.

then / than

Then is used to describe the order of events. Note that the word "then" has an "e" in it. The word "order" also has an "e". And the word "events" has an "e" in it two times, first at the beginning, then again later in the word. Yes, this is actually your example sentence as well: ... First at the beginning, then in the middle.

Than is used in comparisons. Note that both words have an "a": than; comparisons. Example: I like spelling more than grammar.

The best thing I learned from that elementary teacher so long ago was to think of concrete tricks in abstract terms. Spelling tricks are very beneficial and once you find one that works for you, you are not likely to ever forget it. I hope these are helpful!


What is a mnemonic device? How can a mnemonic device help you remember confusing homonyms?

"A mnemonic device is any learning technique that aids memory. Commonly, mnemonics are verbal—such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something—but may be visual, kinesthetic or auditory. Mnemonics rely on associations between easy-to-remember constructs which can be related back to the data that is to be remembered. This is based on the principle that the typical human mind much more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, sexual, humorous or otherwise meaningful information than arbitrary sequences."

So, when studying commonly confused homonyms, such as "to," "too," and "two," notice the differences between these words (visual differences, differences in meaning, definition, or context, etc.) and try to remember these differences by in a memorable, meaningful way as suggested above. This may be through a rhyme, or a song, or just a simple visualization.

So now I know about homonyms. What about homophones and homographs?

For more information about the differences and similarities between homonyms, homophones, homographs, and other related terms, see