Frequently Confused Words

Homonyms, Homophones, Homographs, Heteronyms, Capitonyms: the definitions for these word categories can be confusing, and indeed, they share some of the same characteristics:

  • Homonyms, or multiple-meaning words, are words that usually sound alike and have the same spelling, but have different meanings (e.g. dog bark, tree bark).
  • Homophones, or sound-alikes, are two or more words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, and may or may not be spelled on the same way (e.g. write/right, their/there/they’re).
  • Homographs are words that have the same spelling, but have different meanings and may be pronounced differently (like heteronyms) or the same (like homonyms).
  • Heteronyms, or heterophones, are words that that have the same spelling but have different pronunciations (e.g. bow and arrow vs. take a bow). That is, they are homographs which are not homophones.
  • Capitonyms are words that change in meaning, and sometimes pronunciation, when capitalized; the capitalization usually applies due to one form being a proper noun (e.g. Turkey the country vs. turkey the bird; an example in which pronunciation also changes is Polish citizen vs. polish the silver).

Starting in kindergarten, students should be exposed to multiple-meaning and sound-alike words in order to broaden vocabulary skills. In higher grades, rote understanding of these words helps students understand and appreciate the complexities of everyday words and figurative language, although the explanation of these words is generally not introduced using the terminology.

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When studying all the words in these categories, students should increasingly be able to:

  • Understand that many words in the English language have more than one meaning.
  • Recognize that homonyms can be different parts of speech.
  • Use the words in different contexts.
  • Match different meanings in context with the correct word.
  • Choose one word from a group to complete a number of sentences.

Some fun learning activities to help students comprehend and memorize sound-alike and multiple-meaning words:

  • Write grade-level-appropriate homonyms on the board. Ask students to write the word in sentences and read their sentences aloud. Students can see that “saw” means: “Use a saw (noun) to cut the limb”; “I saw (verb) a movie”; “He can saw (verb) the tree down.”
  • Create a Word Wall labeled homonyms, homographs, heteronyms, and homophones. Add words from vocabulary lessons or examples that come up during the school day.
  • Write a few sentences on the board that will use the same homonym/homograph to fill in a blank. Have students choose one word which fits every sentence.
  • Have students read newspapers and magazines and highlight multiple-meaning and sound-alike words. Then ask them to explain what the words mean in their contexts and describe other meanings they know for the same word.

An integral part of developing vocabulary and spelling skills is to learn and understand the meanings of words that sound alike, but may be spelled differently and have different meanings. VocabularySpellingCity provides word lists, printables, and interactive games and activities that give students the opportunity to practice using frequently confused words.

TeachMe More
This activity allows students to explore the words one at a time. By isolating the sounds in the boxes it does a nice job of demonstrating the relationship between what is seen (grapheme) and what is heard (phoneme) and how different letter combinations can make the same sound.

Try TeachMe More with a word list for Elementary School Heteronyms.

Test-N-Teach
This activity uses the word in context first, and then the students spell it. If they get it wrong, it recycles around for them to spell the word correctly before they can finish the game.

Try Test-N-Teach with a 1st grade Homophones list.

Sentence Unscramble
This activity enhances listening skills while reinforcing how each homophone is used properly in context.

Try Sentence Unscramble with a word list for K-2 Multiple Meaning Words.

MatchIt Sentences
The structure and game play of this activity make it a good one for students to activate their previous knowledge of words by seeing the different ways they can be used in context.

Try MatchIt Sentences with a 4th grade Homophones list.

Word-O-Rama
This activity does an effective job of getting the students to think about the words from different perspectives, including how the word relates to other words, by asking for synonyms, antonyms, sentences and definitions.

Try Word-O-Rama with a word list for 3-5 Multiple Meaning Words.

Sentence Writing Practice/Paragraph Writing Practice
These writing activities give the students an opportunity to demonstrate their current level of understanding of how the words are used in context. Additionally, the teacher feedback option allows comments to the students back from the teacher to correct any misconceptions about proper usage.

Play Sentence Writing Practice with a Middle School Heteronyms list.

Play Paragraph Writing Practice with a K-2 Capitonyms list.