(Okay, their actual name is "homophone" -- but the secondary meaning for "homonym" is "homophone", and it's the word everybody knows, so what the hell.)
I'm not trying to compile a comprehensive list; Alan Cooper seems to be doing a pretty good job of that! All this is is a list of things that I (or others) have noticed cropping up in fanfic. The words are in vaguely alphabetical order. Most of the examples are lame, but they should help get the point across.
Begun sometime in 1997.
affect: to have an effect upon, to influence
effect: a result or consequence; to cause
The government effected a change in the law, affecting mostly big companies but with ripple effects throughout the country.
aid: "assistance" or "to assist"
aide: confidential assistant to a person of higher rank; in the military, this is short for aide-de-camp, an officer who attends a general, governor, etc., and acts as a personal assistant.
When asked for aid, the ambassador's aide had proved invaluable.
bait: something used as a lure
bate: to abate, to lessen, to diminish (with "breath", means to hold one's breath).
He waited with with bated breath to see what sort of fish his bait had caught.
bear: a very large furry animal with a sweet tooth, or "to carry", as in a burden or a gun.
bare: exposed; to expose; "just about"
When the bear bared his teeth, the camper fled, bearing his clothes in his bare arms, barely escaping with his life.
breach: an opening; a breaking (as of a promise); a gap made in a fortification/wall
breech: the lower or back part of something, especially a gun or cannon; breeches are trousers; a breech birth is one where the baby comes out butt first.
The cannon's breech jammed, slowing the progress of shelling a breach through the castle wall.
break: to rupture, shatter, destroy, part, sever, divide, etc.; an opening, a pause or interruption
brake: to slow down or stop; a device that slows or stops something.
The break in the brake line caused a steady leak, so the brakes failed when the driver tried to brake; the sound of breaking glass filled the night as the car slammed into the tree.
capital: the seat of government; a 'big' letter (e.g., A); money, etc., required for running a business; involving the death penalty; the top of a (physical) column.
capitol: building where a state legislature meets.
Capitol: building where the US Congress meets, situated on Capitol Hill.
(If someone wants to come up with an example for this one, be my guest!)
cite: to quote or refer to as an authority or example
sight: vision, view
site: location, to locate or situate
He couldn't believe the sight that met his eyes: his web site, cited in a national newspaper!
coarse: rough, indelicate
course: path, movement; to move swiftly
Exposure to coarse humor as a child may have changed the course of her life, but she was convinced that the blood coursing through her veins had always been that of a stand-up comic.
discrete: individual, separate
discreet: tactful, prudent, able to keep secrets
Every person is by definition discrete, but damn few are discreet.
hoard: a huge stash, as in treasure; to accumulate and store things.
horde: a large group, usually of people, often rushing at something
A horde of barbarians descended upon the city to steal the merchants' hoards of gold.
in to: I'll take suggestions for how to define this one!
into: toward the inside of; entering; becoming -- indicates motion, change, entrance
The werewolf, still in his human form, drove as fast as he could, heaving a sigh of relief as he turned in to the driveway; he knew he could get into the house before he turned into a wolf.
its: belonging to it
it's: it is or it has
The tree has lost all its leaves because it's been pouring for days.
lightening: what the sky does at dawn -- it lightens
lightning: that jagged bright stuff that can electrocute you or cause forest fires.
The storm's steady lightning had a lightening effect on the whole night.
palate: the roof of the mouth; the sense of taste
pallet: a small bed, usually made of straw or a blanket
palette: the board artists use to mix their paints; the arrangement of the colors
Lying on the jail's pallet, he cursed the palate that had led him to steal the artist's wine flask, which had won him nothing but a palette across his skull and an arrest for theft.
past: belonging to time gone by, accomplished, ended; time gone by, former days
passed: past tense of "to pass"
Time passed quickly as they reminisced about the past, and how the past master at anecdotes had passed the title on to his rival after that one story....
peak: top, summit, highest point; a mountain with a pointed top
peek: to look quickly or sneakily
pique: a feeling of irritation or resentment; to stimulate or arouse, provoke
Once they reached the peak he peeked at his companion, interest piqued by the looks he'd been getting on the climb. He was hard put to suppress his pique when he realized it was the water bottle he was carrying that had been so fascinating.
phase: a stage of growth or development; any of the moon's different appearances
faze: to worry, disturb, disconcert
Convinced that her son was just going through a phase, she didn't let his behavior faze her.
pour: what you do with syrup or juice or milk
pore: what you do with books when you read them closely and carefully; a small opening.
With consummate skill, he poured a cup of coffee and pored over his textbook at the same time.
pray: to speak to a deity; to entreat
prey: that which is hunted
The hunter, thinking of his hungry family, prayed that there would be plenty of prey.
principal: most important, having first place; the head of a school
principle: general truth, basic to other truths; a guideline, a moral, a rule of some sort, especially of personal conduct.
Adherence to common principles was the principal reason that the society lasted as long as it did.
rein: leather strap used to control and guide a horse (a tight rein is highly controlling; free rein gives the horse control)
reign: to rule as a monarch; the period of a monarch's rule; predominating influence
During his reign, the young king gave free rein to his hotheaded nobles, causing a reign of terror among the peasants who were their playthings, and who prayed for someone to rein in the youths.
shear: to cut (shears: scissors used to shear)
sheer: to swerve or turn aside; thin and fine (fabric); steep, vertical; absolute
Knowing the sheer folly of trying to climb such a sheer cliff, he nevertheless persevered, only sheering off at the top to shear a sheep.
taut: tightly drawn, tense
taught: past tense of "to teach"
taunt: to goad or provoke; a wounding jibe
He had taught this class for many years with no problems, so the taunts came as a surprise; noticing the taut muscles he realized the student was spoiling for a fight, and sent him out to clap erasers to work off some of the energy.
than: used in comparison
then: used to refer to time; therefore
When they were children, Dave was taller than Ken; then, when they grew up, Ken was taller than Dave.
their: something that belongs to them
they're: they are
there: in that place
They told me they had left their car right there, so now they're trying to find out if it got towed or stolen.
throes: spasms, paroxysms (in the throes (of) = in the thick (of) or in struggle with)
throws: 3rd-person present tense of "to throw"; several acts of throwing ("throws of the dice"); pillows or blankets used as room accessories
Seeing the poor creature in its death throes, he grabbed one of the throws from the couch and wrapped her in it.
to: everything not covered by the following two descriptions
too: also, very, excessively
two: number between one and three
It was too bad that the two rock stars were too rich and pampered to appreciate what lengths their fans had to go to in order to buy tickets to the two shows -- it wasn't just a matter of money, but of time and physical comfort, too.
vial: small (usually glass) container used for liquids
vile: nasty, foul, loathsome
The substance in the vial smelled vile.
wave: surface movement of the ocean; undulating motion or sound; movement of the raised hand to indicate hello or good-bye; to undulate or flutter, to move raised hand in greeting or farewell
waive: to give up voluntarily (as in rights or a claim)
waver: to move to and fro; to shake, be unsteady; to falter; to vacillate
waiver: the act of waiving, or a formal written statement of waiving
He shivered as the crime boss waved right at him, wavering in his decision to rat the mob out, then shrugged; he was dying anyway, so he waived his rights and agreed to talk, willingly signing the waiver they put before him.
who's: who is, who has
whose: belonging to who or which
"Who's been sleeping in whose bed?" Mama Bear wondered, confused.
your: belonging to you
you're: you are
"You're going to regret it later on if you don't change your attitude now."
[With thanks to Susan R. for her suggestions]
Have a favorite homonym mistake that you'd like to see added? Let me know!
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