Is it Desert or Dessert? Commonly confused words in the English Language

We all know how difficult the English language is to learn, particularly when it comes to spelling.

There are those 26 letters and 46 sounds which together make over 1200 spelling combinations in words.

Once you have learnt these, (if you ever do), you will then be faced with words that sound the same but have totally different meanings.

These similar sounding words are called homophones and there are more than 70 of these in the English language.

There are also words when combined together in an abbreviated form sound like other words.

An example of this is they’re (an abbreviated form of they-are) which sounds like their and there.

“Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, these words can sometimes be confused and used incorrectly by struggling learners.”

If you are writing and suddenly stop to think which spelling of the word is correct, then you aren’t alone. Even digital spell check programs don’t always get it right and can lead to embarrassing spelling faux pas.

You may get a strange look if you write- “It makes me happy to eat my favourite desert every Friday.” Some readers will pick up your error regarding the much needed extra ‘s’, but many will not.

Here is a list of some of the more commonly confused homophones.

  1. Their, there and they’re
  2. Accept and except
  3. Affect and effect
  4. Loose and lose
  5. Advice and advise
  6. Aloud and allowed
  7. Dessert and desert
  8. Sight and site
  9. Lead and led
  10. Too, to and two
  11. Draw and drawer
  12. Week and weak
  13. Practice and practise
  14. Bear and bare
  15. Which and witch
  16. Principle and Principal

Sometimes teachers will help students to remember which homophone to use by creating a story or prompt like this –

When something has been lost or is missing, then you leave out an o as in lose, not loose. “I constantly lose my keys.”

If something is too big, you have an extra o as in loøse. “My pants are loose, now that I have lost weight.”

Words like ‘there’ and ‘their’, can be easily differentiated if you see the i in their as a form of ownership, as in i own it.

In the word ‘there’, the extra e could be used to remind the learner where something exists. “The children leave their shoes at the door of the classroom, right over there.”

In the example of ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’, the extra ‘s’ could be used to remind the learner that it is sweet or has sugar.

For some people trying to differentiate words based on whether they’re a noun or verb isn’t helpful.

“Using visual clues within words can help struggling learners to identify and understand the different homophones and which is the correct one to use.”

Using multiple strategies is the key to helping struggling learners to understand the different spellings of homophones and their meanings.

You could start by writing a list of the words they are confusing regularly.

Begin working slowly through the list, one at a time, until the correct spelling and use are cemented into their long-term memory.

‘Bi’ for now. Opps! I mean ‘by’ for now… No, I really mean ‘bye’ for now.

Liz Dunoon

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