There seems to be a collective mentality – at least among our clients – when it comes to certain homophones. Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently. Common ones that are often cited in blogs about homophones include there and their, its and it’s, hear and here, weather and whether, etc. We see all these used erroneously from time to time but mostly our clients ace these.
However, there are three pairs of homophones that are almost universally mixed up. They are not on most of the lists, yet they are confused so often we wonder what’s going on with these words. They are rein and reign, principle and principal, and peek and peak.
You wouldn’t think reign, the period during which a sovereign rules, and rein, a long, narrow strap used to guide a horse, would come up that frequently in books. But they do and they are almost invariably confused.
Principle, a fundamental truth or proposition, and principal, first in order of importance, seem open to confusion. But in this case, one is being used as a noun (principle) and one is an adjective (principal) so maybe that can help keep them straight. Ask yourself what the word is doing. Is it a thing or describing a thing?
Peek, to look quickly and often furtively, and peak, to reach a high point, are our number one homophones in their verb forms. Characters are universally peaking when they should be peeking.
Another – not homophone – that is generally confusing is lie and lay. When applied to stretching out prone on a bed or a couch, I, you, he, she, it should lie on a bed, not lay. Mary Norris, the Comma Queen, mentioned in our last blog, is doing video grammar segments for the New Yorker Magazine now. Here is a link to her spiel on lie/lay: The lie of the lie/lay land
We are not necessarily advocating that you worry too much about homophones when you are struggling with narrative and character. It could get in the way of actual writing. We are just interested that so many of you are making the same mistakes. What’s up with peek?