Spelling, Vocabulary, and Confusing Words

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Many words in English sound or look alike, causing confusion and not a few headaches. This section lists some of these words, and other troublemakers.


HAIR, HARE

Hair: what grows on the head and body.

Hare: a rabbit.


HALL, HAUL

Hall: a passageway; a large room.

Haul: to pull or drag.


HALVE, HAVE

Halve: to divide in two.

Have: to possess; to hold.


HANGAR, HANGER

Many think that a shed or shelter for housing airplanes is a "hanger," rather than a hangar (the correct spelling).

A hanger is something to hang a garment on, or someone who hangs things.


HANGED, HUNG

Speakers and writers who value precision know that the past tense of hang, when it means "to put to death using a rope," is hanged, not hung. This applies to both the active and passive voice: They hanged the prisoner and The prisoner was hanged.

For inanimate objects, use hung. Under unusual conditions, people also hung or are hung, e.g., He hung from the tree with one hand or He found himself hung upside down.


HEAL, HEEL

Heal: to repair; to restore to health.

Heel: the back part of the foot; a scoundrel.


HEALTHFUL, HEALTHY

The difference between these two words is unquestionable, healthful meaning "something that promotes health" and healthy meaning "in good health." But in everyday speech, healthful has been nudged aside by healthy in phrases like healthy food or a healthy diet.


HEAR, HERE

There is an ear in hear, and here is 80 percent of where.


HEROIN, HEROINE

Heroin: a drug derived from morphine.

Heroine: a woman admired for courage or ability.


HISTORIC

See an historic.


HOARD, HORDE

Hoard: to stockpile; to amass.

Horde: a large group; a crowd.


HOARSE, HORSE

Hoarse: raspy; sore-throated.

Horse: a type of animal.


HOLE, WHOLE

Hole: an opening.

Whole: entirety (noun); entire (adjective).


HOLY, WHOLLY

Holy: sacred.

Wholly: entirely.


HOMAGE

A critic called a film "a homage to motherhood." The critic wisely did not write "an homage," knowing full well that the h is sounded (see an historic). This word has spun out of control in the twenty-first century. Its traditional pronunciation is "HOMM-ij." Then "AHM-ij" gained a foothold, and it went downhill from there. Now, just about all one hears is the pseudo-sophisticated "oh-MAHZH," a pronunciation that was virtually nonexistent in English until the late twentieth century.


HONE IN

Make it home in. Hone in has achieved undeserved legitimacy for the worst of reasons: the similarity in sound and appearance of n and m. Honing is a technique used for sharpening cutting tools and the like.

To home in, like zero in, is to get something firmly in your sights, to get to the crux of a problem.


HOT WATER HEATER

A curious term for water heater.


HUNG

See hanged, hung.


Misused Words

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