Learning The English Language Is Difficult: Is It To, Too Or Two?

Pamela Beers

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No wonder people from other countries have a tough time learning English! I was born and raised in the United States, being immersed in the English language from birth, and I still have a tough time; especially with homophones, homographs, and heteronyms. “Come again" you ask? “What are those three h words anyway?"

Homophones are usually words that sound the same but have different spellings and different meanings. Examples of homophones are: all (everything), awl (tool); beau (boyfriend), bow (decorative knot); beer (drink), bier (coffin); and gnu (antelope), knew (past tense of know), new (recent); and the ever popular to (toward), too (also), two (number). I almost forgot the three most misused and misspelled words that come across my desk: their (passive pronoun), there (at that place), and they’re (contraction for they are).

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and different origins. Examples of homographs are: bay (body of water, aromatic leaves used in cooking, reddish brown color, alcove between columns, and howl); duck (large wild bird, lower suddenly, type of cotton cloth); and fast (speedy, go without food).

Some heteronyms are homographs and are spelled the same but have different pronunciations. Examples of heteronyms/homographs are: affect (influence), (pretend); close (shut), (near); buffet (cabinet for dishes), (self-serve meal), (strike); desert (dry barren region), (go away from), desert (suitable reward or punishment). Then there is dessert. I still get confused with how to spell desert and dessert (which is a sweet treat after a meal). Whew!

If you’re still interested, and want to be word challenged, there is a fourth h called homonyms. Homonyms suffer from many definitions and can include homophones (same sound), and homographs (same spelling). Good grief!

According to the word gurus, heteronyms can be homographs, but homophones and homographs are different. So, homophones have the same sound. Homographs have the same spelling. Heteronyms can be homographs. A-r-r-g-h! If you’re not confused yet, I am. Oh well, as confusing as it is, I’ll just have to keep trying. I may learn the English language yet!

Copyright © 2006 Pamela Beers. All rights reserved.

Pamela Beers is a freelance writer and educator who teaches language arts to students either individually or in small groups. Visit her website for more information on student learning and writing tips. http://www.pamelabeers.com


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