Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why bother about homonyms?

Speaking of homonyms (which I was last October), why should we care about them? So what if there are three ways to spell two of the words in this sentence, with three different meanings each, and two ways to spell another? (Do you know which words they are?)

Well, one reason is, the spell check on your computer will not fix this kind of misspelling for you. If you write, for example, "I am having a wonderful time studying hear in Carbondale," your choice of hear instead of here will stay. And if you have written that sentence for an essay, your teacher will grade you lower. Even if he says he doesn't take off points for spelling, that error will make you look stupid to him, and he will--unconsciously perhaps--read your essay with a little less confidence in what you have to say.

Another reason to know common homonyms is that they are often used as distractors (incorrect answers that sound pretty good) on the Listening Section of the TOEFL.

In one edition of the book, Cracking the TOEFL, published by Princeton Review, the authors talk about one of the TOEFL's favorite trap answers, Sound-Alikes. In the Listening section, wrong answers often contain words that sound similar to the correct statement. They might be homonyms, or they might be rhyming words, as in an example where Mary says Sunday is her "day off." One answer says Mary has a "bad cough." Another says that Mary "often" works on Sunday, the exact opposite of her statement, but it sounds similar. Another says that "some days" Mary's work is "awful." These are distractors. They sound similar to the statement, but they are incorrect answers. The correct answer is, "Mary rarely works on Sunday," which is a paraphrase of Mary's statement.

So it's important to be aware of words and phrases that might sound similar, or exactly the same, but have different spellings and meanings. It will pay off for you.

In the first paragraph, the homonyms are: too, to, two; there, their, they're; and so, sew. But you knew that, didn't you?


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