Sunday, July 05, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 5: Similar Spellings, Pronunciations, or Meanings

Three obvious reasons for our getting words wrong are homographs, words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings (e.g., the noun lead meaning the metal and the verb lead meaning to conduct); homonyms, words with the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings (e.g., the noun tie meaning neckwear and the verb tie meaning to fasten); and homophones, words with the same pronunciation but different meanings and spellings (e.g., to, too, two). 

But many other words are confusing because they are nearly homographs, homonyms, or homophones. Consider the verbs adapt (to modify) and adopt (to take as one's own), the verbs apprise (to inform) and appraise (to assess), and the adverbs farther (greater distance) and further (greater extent).

In this fifth of a ten-part series on why we get words wrong, I give a second admonishment besides the usual one about reading more: check spelling carefully, preferably leaving time between the editing and proofreading stages. You'll likely find more errors using this approach.