Same Difference: The Dreaded Homonyms




The image above is for a printing company that specializes in stationery. As you can see, they spelled their specialty “stationary,” which means they are selling something that doesn’t move–like exercise bikes!

They have a case of the dreaded homonyms. Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Here are some other common homonyms that trip us up when we write:

  • your and you’re
  • affect and effect
  • their, there, they’re
  • its and it’s

Homonyms are tricky because spell check often doesn’t catch them. I have some tips on how to simplify their complexity:

Use a second pair of eyes. We all have a blind spot to our own writing. Have someone else look over your writing before you submit or publish it.

If unsure, research. is a good source for unlocking grammar’s mysteries. I use it all the time!

Give it the contraction test. If the homonym is a contraction, say the word in its entirety and if it sounds awkward, that’s a tell-tale sign that it doesn’t belong in that context. For example, “Allison and Jeff left they’re (they are) books on the table” sounds off. So that eliminates the choices down to their or there. Get it?

Develop your own mnemonic devices. The way I tell the difference between “stationary” and “stationery” is that “stationery” and “letter” both have an “e.” So I immediately associate printed paper with “stationery.” Develop your own associations, songs, rhymes or whatever about a word’s correct usage and it will become second nature.

Cheers and happy reading and writing!

Sean C. Wright is an author and editor. For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–for business or consumer needs–visit