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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A US Copy Editor's Perspective: Homophones

Even if you don't recognize the word homophones, you will recognize examples of them, as follows:
  • too, two, to
  • they're, there, their
  • peak, peek, pique
  • mantle, mantel
  • carat, karat, caret
  • horde, hoard
  • capital, capitol
  • emigrate, immigrate
  • it's, its
Obviously they are words that sound alike but the meaning of each is separate and distinct. When misused in your novel, these words will cause your reader confusion, who may then stop to ponder what was wrong with that sentence and to zero in on the problem. You have just knocked your reader out of your story. You don't want to do that.

So I would suggest that you print out this list and search for each throughout your manuscript. If you are unsure of a usage here and there, look it up in Web11, to confirm your spelling matches your intended definition.

I'll quickly go through each.

Too means also; two is a pair, a couple; to is a preposition showing movement (to lunch, to my house, to do).

They're is nothing but a contraction for they are. While there denotes a place, whether used as a noun, an adverb, pronoun or adjective, their  is possessive, showing ownership as in their house.

Peak is the top of something, like when speaking of a mountaintop. Peek is for seeing, spying, as through a peephole. Pique is another word for anger or resentment.

Mantle is a literal cloak or reference to the unseen weight of responsibility. Mantel  is that shelf atop a fireplace.

Carat is used with gems like diamonds. Karat is a measurement for pure gold as in 24K. Caret is an insert mark.

Horde is a group of people. Hoard is a propensity to oversave.

Capital means money or the city seat or an uppercase letter, whereas capitol is the building where a legislative body meets. So Baton Rouge is the capital city of Louisiana with its capitol offices [the physical building] located on North Third Street at State Capitol Drive.

Emigrate and immigrate are trickier. To emigrate is to speak of the place you left. To immigrate is to speak of the place you traveled to. So while a German couple may emigrate from their hometown of Berlin to the States, they immigrated to the US, entering New York last month.

And last, but never least, is probably the most misused of the bunch. Remember: it's only means IT IS. If it is does not work where you have it's, then change it to its. Its is possessive, like their spoken of above. 

Hope this cheat sheet helps you when you are writing.

Denise Barker, author + blogger + copy editor

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