If you’re an English language learner, you’ve probably noticed that there are plenty of words that sound the same but have a completely different meaning. Most of them are spelled differently, so recognizing them is easier when reading them rather than hearing them.
These are called homophones and the English language is loaded with them. So, knowing the most common ones can help you avoid misunderstandings during a conversation.
Here are 17 pairs of English homophones you should know.
17 Sets of English Words That Sound the Same but Have Different Meanings
1. Bear and Bare
Bear is a noun that represents the large furry animal, whereas bare is an adjective that means basic or not covered.
Ex. I packed the bare essentials when I went for camping with my sister. She says she saw a bear the first night, but I don’t believe her.
2. Sell and Cell
If someone sells something, an item or service, it means it offers it for money. It’s a verb, unlike cell which is a noun with two meanings. The first is a small room in prison and the second is the smallest functional and structural unit of organisms.
Ex. The first day I was locked in my cell, I realized it was a mistake to sell stolen goods.
3. Eight (8) and Ate
Eight is a noun that stands for the number 8, while ate is the past form of the verb “eat”.
Ex. I still feel sick from yesterday when I ate eight pancakes.
4. Sea and See
Sea is a noun that stands for an uncontained body of water, while see is a verb which means viewing something with your eyes or becoming aware of something.
Ex. Can’t you see that I love sea?
5. By and Buy
By is a preposition which can be used in different situations, including identifying the doer of an action or the means of accomplishing something. The verb buy means that you get something by paying for it.
Ex. I want to buy that book by Jane Harper.
6. I and Eye
I is a pronoun, 1st person singular, and eye is a noun that stands for the organ of sight.
Ex. I can see your eye is twitching.
7. Meat and Meet
You eat meat – a noun that stands for edible animal flesh, and you meet people, meet being a verb that describes the action of arranging or accidentally coming into the presence of someone.
Ex. Can we meet tomorrow to discuss meat safety?
8. Ferry and Fairy
Ferry is a noun that means a type of boat that transfers vehicles and passengers across water where there are no bridges. Fairy is also a noun, but this one describes a mythical creature such as Tinkerbell in Peter Pan.
Ex. I wish I was a fairy and use magic to go to that island instead of traveling on a ferry.
9. Flower and Flour
Flower is the beautiful, colorful part of plants that’s often used as a decoration, while flour is the powder used as a main ingredient in making pastry and bread. Both words are nouns.
Ex. My boyfriend bought me a flower and some flour to make a cake for my birthday.
10. Break and Brake
To break something means to smash it or damage it so it’s no longer functional. It’s a verb as opposed to the noun brake which stands for the device that stops or slows down a moving vehicle.
Ex. Don’t be afraid to press the brake hard, you won’t break it.
11. Here and Hear
Here is an adverb of place which tells where you are at the moment of speaking. Hear, on the other hand, is a verb that describes the action of perceiving sounds through your ears.
Ex. I can hear loud music here.
12. Night and Knight
The meaning of the noun night is the opposite of the word “day”. Even though knight is also a noun, it has a different meaning. It refers to a mounted soldier in armor who served his lord in the Middle Ages.
Ex. The brave knight went to save his lord in the middle of the night.
13. Merry and Marry
Both words sound like the name Mary, but they have a different meaning. Merry is an adjective that means happy, usually found in phrases such as Merry Christmas. Marry, on the other hand, is a verb describing the act of joining in marriage.
Ex. Merry Christmas Sara. Will you marry me?
14. Pear and Pair
A pair is a set of two items or people. Just like pair, pear is also a noun but with a different meaning. It stands for the yellowish-green juicy, sweet fruit that’s wider towards the base.
Ex. John, stop trying to eat your pear with a pair of chopsticks.
15. Write and Right
To write something means to use letters or words on a piece of paper or any other surface to express your thoughts or ideas. It’s a verb, unlike the word right which can be an adjective or adverb. When used as an adjective, it means correct or someone who’s morally good. When used as an adverb, it means completely, exactly, or immediately.
Ex. I can write you a song right now.
16. Sun and Son
Both words are nouns with similar spelling but different meanings. Sun is the big yellow ball in the sky we can see during the day, while son is a male child to his parents.
Ex. My son loves to play under the sun.
17. Won and One (1)
Won is the past form of the verb “win” which means to be first in a contest or to be successful in something. One is a noun indicating the number 1.
Ex. One of my friends won a gold medal at the Olympics.
To Sum Up
The English language is loaded with homophones or pairs of words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings. Sometimes they can confuse even native speakers, so knowing at least some of the most common ones can be helpful for any English language learner.