The Most Common - And Confusing

You have two hands, a right hand and a left hand. Left is also the past tense of leave: I left the party at ten o’clock. Right is the other side, but also means correct and the abstract idea of the rights of man. – Everyone has a right to their own opinion.

If you walk off the edge of a cliff you will fall off course. Fall in America is the season between summer and winter, called Autumn in England, when the leaves fall off the trees. A fall is also a woman’s hairpiece that is made to fall down the back of her neck.

The past of fall is fell, which also means hill in the Scottish dialect of English. To fell is a verb meaning to chop down a tree, or metaphorically to knock down a person.

Speaking of past, the word is pronounced, though not written, the same as the past form of pass; passed, „I passed a car on the road.“ „I passed the newsstand on my way to work.“

Road, which is what you drive or ride on, is pronounced the same as the past form of ride, which is spelled rode. Road and rode sound the same as rowed, which is the past form of row – the way you make a rowboat go across the water with two oars. Row is also a line of objects, all in a row. It is also English slang for a fight or argument. „The soldiers marched past row on row.“ „I had a real row with my girlfriend.“

You row a rowboat with two oars (facing backwards unlike a canoe or kayak where you face forwards). Oar is pronounced the same as the conjunction or, and the mineral ore which is the state that metals are in when they come out of the ground. Iron ore, gold ore, high and low grade ore.

Red is a color, the color of blood. It is pronounced the same as the past of read, which is what you are doing now. Read is spelled the same in its present and past forms, though they are pronounced differently. Present read is pronounced the same as reed; tall grasses which grow in wet ground beside rivers and lakes. Past read is pronounced like red, the color. From reeds we make baskets, mats, and musical reeds for woodwind instruments.

Wind, by the way, is spelled but not pronounced, the same as wind: to wrap something around something else, „Wind the string around the stick.“

Reed is pronounced the same as rede, an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning „advice“. Unready, which now means unprepared once meant „without good advice“.

The number one is pronounced the same as the past of win which is won. We won one game, lost one, and tied one. Tied is the past of tie, which is what we do to our shoelaces, and is also what happens in a game if neither side wins or loses and the score is even.

The first problem that beginning students of English run into is the triple homophone to, two, and too. To is a preposition, and a part of the infinitive – the dictionary form of every verb: to go, to eat, etc. It is used to show where you are going and what you are going to do: „I’m going to the movies to see the new American film.“ 

Two is of course the number after one and before three. No problem except where did we get that w?

Too means more than is necessary, good, or wise. „I’m too tired to go out.“ „It’s too dark to see.“ „He’s too lazy to work and too nervous to steal.“ As you can see, the problem is that it’s often followed by the infinitive verb form, which can be confusing for beginners.

I had a friend with three girlfriends once, but that was two girlfriends too many to handle. Got that now? Or is that still too confusing?

See is what we do with our eyes. The sea is a very large body of water, such as the Mediterranean Sea. So what is the Holy See? The Holy See is not a sacred body of water, it’s what we call the Vatican when the Pope speaks from it officially.

We go to work to earn money, but an urn is a large vase, often used to put crematory ashes in – a funeral urn.

A bear is a large, fierce, hairy animal but to bear means to carry, as in to bear a burden. It is most often used nowadays in a metaphorical sense: to bear children, to bear fruit (literally as on a tree, or figuratively as from a plan), or as in to stand or tolerate, „I can’t bear to see you cry.“

The past of bear is bore, „Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas day at morn.“ (From: The Holly and the Ivy, an English Christmas carol.) Morn is an old form of morning, which are also homophones for the verb to mourn and the noun mourning, what we do when someone we care for dies. „I mourn the death of my favorite writer.“ Widows observe a period of mourning for one year after their husband’s death.

Bore also means to drill large holes in something, as in to bore a tunnel. It also means something or someone totally uninteresting, „He is such a bore.“ „This bores me to death.“ Both a noun and a verb. The adjective is boring. When describing how you feel in the present you say, „I am bored.“ not, „I am boring.“ which would mean, „I am a boring person.“ You can use this as a play on words, „You bore me like an auger (a kind of drill).“

A boar is a large male pig and is pronounced the same as bore. The past of bore, bored, is pronounced the same as board, which is a plank of wood, or a committee; the board of directors of a company for instance. These words are actually related, since a board of directors meets around a desk made of wooden boards. And in old times when ships were made of wood, people went on board, which we now also do on trains and airplanes. We make a verb of this and board our ships, trains, and planes.

Ok? Just one more, a bore is also the barrel of a rifle or shotgun and the diameter of a shotgun is described as it’s gauge or bore. We might use a twelve gauge (or bore) shotgun to shoot wild boar.

The past of feel is felt, pronounced and spelt the same as a kind of soft cloth made from boiled and pressed animal fur, rather than woven from plant fibers.

We’re not through (finished) yet. Through (a preposition) is used like, „Drive through the center of town.“

Threw is the past tense of throw, which is what we do with a ball. He threw the ball through the window.

And of course there is the first set of homophones you learned: there, their, and they’re. There the opposite of here, their the plural possessive, and they’re the short form of they are.

If you pronounce they’re carefully there’s a slight difference they – ur but most people don’t bother.

Did you know that? No? I thought you knew that. Well, you learn something new every day.


WORD PICTURES by Stephen Browne

published by inlingua GALINDO Language School