Even-More-Confusing Homophones

Last time, we went over some common sets of homophones. Often, when people get those mixed up, they actually know which one is which – it just takes a little effort to keep them straight. The sets in this list may be a bit more confusing. How many do you know?

Stationary/stationery

Stationary is an adjective meaning “staying in one place.”

All the stationary bicycles at the gym were in use, so she used the elliptical instead.

Stationery is a noun referring to fancy paper with matching envelopes.

On the way back from the gym, she bought some stationery with pictures of snails.

Lead/led

This one is extra tricky because lead and lead are actually homographs – words that share a spelling but have different meanings and pronunciations.

When you pronounce lead as rhyming with bed, it refer to a heavy metal.

Make sure your plates aren’t made with lead – it can be toxic.

When you pronounce lead as rhyming with need, it’s a verb meaning “to guide or direct.” Led is the past tense of lead.

He was an excellent leader because he always led with humility.

Remember, if you’re writing lead, either you’re writing about the metal or you’re writing about leading in the present tense. To write about leading in the past tense, you need to drop the a.

Complement/compliment

Complement is a verb that means “to complete or improve something.” It is also a noun that means “something that completes or improves something else.”

The salt complements the brownie nicely. In fact, I think the salt would be the perfect complement for the caramel, too.

Compliment is a verb that means “to make a positive remark about someone or something.” It is also a noun that means “a positive remark about someone or something.”

He complimented her by saying her salted brownies were the best ever. Isn’t that a sweet compliment?

Pro tip: Use the above definitions to make sure you also know the difference between complementary and complimentary.

Complementary can mean “completing or improving something.” Sugar and salt are complementary, so make sure to include both in your recipe.

Complimentary can mean “expressing a positive thought about someone or something.”

The judge made complimentary remarks about the brownies, so I think she’s going to win the competition.

Complimentary can also mean “free of charge.”

When I complained about the slow service, I got a complimentary brownie!

Affect/Effect

Affect generally functions as a verb meaning “to produce a result.”

Everyone wanted to know how the rain would affect the Venus fly traps.

Affect can also be a verb that means “to put on a pretense of.”

Mrs. Olin affected indifference, but deep down, she was interested.

Effect generally functions as a noun meaning “result.”

The Venus fly traps became huge, and one effect was that Mr. Putter wanted more space for his garden.

Effect can also be a verb that means “to cause to come into being.”

However, the community board had already effected a ban on expanding gardens, so he couldn’t.

Accept/Except

Accept is a verb that means “to receive.”

The dog accepted pats from everyone.

Except usually functions as a preposition that means “excluding.” The dog accepted pats from everyone except Charlie.

Except can also be a verb that means “to exclude.”

The dog excepted Charlie because Charlie didn’t give the dog bacon.

To make matters even more complicated, some of these words – notably affect and complement – have additional meanings not listed here. However, this blog post covers common definitions, so keep it on hand for reference. Also, remember that eType software can help you with definitions and words not included on this list. Don’t be afraid to use eType while you’re putting together a document. There are a lot of wild homophones, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting a little help to make sure you can wrangle them.

Alicia Holland

Alicia Holland has a B.A. in creative writing from Binghamton University and an M.A. in teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University. She loves to play with language and literature.

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