English and its Spelling Troubles

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English can be a difficult language to learn, especially in terms of spelling. Besides the usual silent letters, such as “e” at the end of words, there is a class of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. These are called homophones. They are just a small part of English and its spelling troubles.

English has many examples of homophones: so / sew / sow, real / reel, to / two / too, buy / by / bye, and they’re / there / their, to name a few. Understanding the sentences and context in which the words are used will go a long way toward getting the spelling correct, but you have to know which spelling refers to which meaning. Even native speakers sometimes get these mixed up.

Another aspect of homophones that makes spelling difficult is the multiple pronunciations of vowels and vowel combinations. In the above example of so / sew / sow, if we contrast them with words that only differ by their first letters, such as no / new / now, we hear very different sounds altogether. “So” and “no” have the same long “o” sound, but “new” has an “oo” sound (long “u”) compared to “sew” (long “o”), and “now” has a shorter “ow” sound.

Here is a short list of homophone pairs that are good to learn:

accept / except (very similar)
ate / eight
air / heir
be / bee
by / bye
dear / deer
fair / fare
feat / feet
for / four
great / grate
hear / here
I / eye
know / no
meat / meet
one / won
our / hour
pair / pear
real / reel
scents / sense
sew / so
sight / site
there / they’re
too / two
urn / earn
vain / vein
wait / weight
yoke / yolk

Learning homophones will help reduce confusion in conversations.

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