NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.
One of the great writing plagues is the homophone, of which there are three different sorts you’ll be pleased to know. There’s the basic homophone, the homonym, and the homograph, just because English grammar likes to be mean.
Homophone – We all know this delightful little grammatical flare, probably responsible for a few of your favourites. Its greatest hits include: there, their and they’re with follow up hits, your, you’re and yore. Basically a homophone is any word that sounds the same but has a different spelling and meaning. People tend to confuse these a lot because grammar checkers won’t always pick them up and, most importantly, they sound the same when you read them back.
|Their||Belongs to them||Your||Belongs to you|
|They’re||They are||You’re||You are|
|There||Over there||Yore||Long ago|
My top tip for remembering if you need they’re or you’re is to say the sentence without a contraction. So if you say the sentence aloud and it should be: ‘They are going to the library’ or ‘You are going to the library’ you know you need they’re or you’re.
Their and your can be trickier but they’re also possessive so will be used in relation to one thing belonging to another. For example, ‘Their books’ books belonging to a group. ‘Your books’ books belonging to an individual.
There is any other use. ‘Over there’, ‘there are many’, ‘there could be an argument’.
Yore is unrelated to the rest and refers to a long time ago ‘days of yore’. Luckily this one doesn’t pop up too often which probably reduces the odds of getting it wrong.
If you’re worried there’s some definitive way not to confuse these, don’t worry, everyone does it even if they pretend they don’t. I’m not ashamed to admit that I keep mistyping them as I write this article.
Homonym – This type refers to words that are the same spoken and written but different in meaning like: row a boat and row of buttons.
Homograph – Is a type that refers to words that are the same when written but sound different when spoken aloud and mean different things like: the entrance to a house and to entrance someone.
Just to make it extra fun all three names for words that sound the same all sound similar too.