I'm working mostly with non-native English speakers, and I it becomes apparent that sound-alike words often cause confusion, particularly in business emails.

There are too many of these words to make a separate question for each one:

to/too/two, brake/break, sail/sale, for/four/fore, buy/by/bye, hear/here, were/wear/where, pair/pear/peer, weak/week, seem/seam (I have also seen Siam in this context :), tail/tale, and many others.

I'm trying to nail them together by helping my friends and colleagues to learn them quickly and effectively.

I'm looking for an effective didactic method to help my colleagues grasp these words.

More details, if it matters: their native languages are primarily Thai and Chinese; many of them are working from homes, so it is not effective to buy books for each of them or arrange study in a school; most of them are rather familiar with formal and natural sciences, not humanities.

  • 3
    Did you intentionally avoid using "homophone"? :). Oh just on the topic, I don't think were and wear/where sound alike at all. Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 7:19
  • @JamesJiao I could not think of this term when I was writing the question. :-) I thank to ctype.h for bringing the most correct term for it. Here at ELL, users tend not to know a proper linguistic terminology, so helping adding formal words certainly increases question's searchability. Having each word confused or not depends on whether the asker's native language distinguish certain sounds, so I agree, it may vary. Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 7:59
  • You can add 'fore' to for/four and bye to buy/by. Do you mean we're for were? Also, pair/pear (and pare) probably don't include peer in their list.
    – mcalex
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 8:23
  • @mcalex I have included only those from a certain subset of language learners (I.T. professionals living in certain countries). For instance, with my background (Ukrainian) the words it and eat were confusable, but they aren't for Thais due to different phonology. There are certainly more of those words. If you think some can be added or removed, feel free to edit. Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


Why don't you try making limericks or tongue twisters for them? Something like

They were wearing wool when they realised they were not where they should have been.

It seemed that the seam had broken.

He braked slowly trying not to break the precious cargo.

The mouse with the long tail had a very interesting tale to tell.

The salesman was happy to make a new sale, now he could afford the sails on his boat.

A week had passed and he was slowly getting weaker.

Things like this for example and then use them to point out the semantic differences. Also you can use it to help reinforce phrasal verbs.

  • Now if only there were one for lose/loose. Curiously people never seem to screw up bose/boose/booze, come/comb/coomb, chose/choose, moose/mouse, move, prove, whose. . . . Oh wait, they do screw up whose/who’s: best add that to the list.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 13:15
  • 1
    The only problem I have with this technique is that I'm not sure how much they would help someone remember which is witch [sic]. In other words, when I'm composing my email, what prevents me from erroneously thinking that my mnemonic went like this: He thought it was grate to great the cheese. The most important thing to remember is which words have homophones, a simple glance at an online dictionary can verify if you're using the rite won. (Plus, ewe wood knead a sentence four every pear!)
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 19:38
  • @J.R. -- Each mnemonic could have a twin that provided a spelling clue for the last homophone in the first mnemonic. For example, "I don't want to lose my loose change. There is a moose on the loose."
    – Jasper
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 2:18

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