10 Unusual Homophones

Homophones are words that sound identical that have different spellings. Some are very common, such as HEAR/HERE which are both pronounced/hɪə/. In this lesson, we look at 10 homophones that are less well known:

1. you, ewe /ju:/

/ju:/ can represent the strong form of ‘you’ and also the word ‘ewe’, which is the name for a female sheep.

Maria doesn’t want to go but do YOU want to go?
That ewe is pregnant.

2. great, grate /greɪt/

The word ‘great’ /greɪt/ has the same pronunciation as the verb ‘grate’ – to reduce food to small shreds using a grater (e.g. cheese, carrots…)

This food is great!
Thanks – the secret is to grate all the carrots very finely.

3. aural, oral /ˈɔ:r(ə)l/

/ɔ:rəl/ can mean both ‘aural’ (related to listening), and ‘oral’ (related to the mouth and voice) – very confusing!

My music aural test is this Friday.
Flossing is important for your oral health.

4. queue, cue /kju:/

The French-derived word ‘queue’ is pronounced /kju:/ in English, as is the word ‘cue’ – which is a synonym of ‘prompt’, or can also refer to the stick people play snooker with.

Please join the other queue if you are collecting tickets.
I messed up in the play last night – I totally missed my cue!

5. metal, mettle /ˈmet(ə)l/

As well as the word encompassing gold, silver, bronze, steel etc, /metl/ spelt as ‘mettle’ can mean ‘resilience’.

Metal padlocks are prone to rust.
That horse really showed its mettle in the final few minutes of that race.

6. seed, cede /si:d/

If you want to grow a flower you need to first plant a ‘seed’ /si:d/, but if you give up power or land, you also ‘cede’.

This type of seed is very attractive to birds, so cover the flower bed with a net.
There is nothing more to do – we must cede this territory or risk the lives of all these people.

7. few, phew /fju:/

A small number is a ‘few’ /fju:/, which is also the sound you make when you are relieved.

After a few weeks of flirting, he finally asked her out.
Phew! It’s so hot out there but so lovely and cool in here!”

8. minor, miner /ˈmʌɪnə/

‘Minor’ /maɪnə/ means ‘small’ and so ‘a minor’ is an underage person, whereas ‘a miner’ is a person who works in a mine.

The Victoria line is running with minor delays.
Working as a miner is insanely dangerous and hard work.

9. mince, mints /mɪns/

/mɪns/ can refer to either ‘mince’, meaning very finely cut up food, or ‘mints’, the refreshing sweets.

You need to mince the beef to make burgers.
Do you sell mints?

10. wet, whet /wɛt/

/wet/ usually means ‘not dry’, but can also mean ‘to excite or stimulate’ or ‘to sharpen (a blade)’ with the spelling ‘whet’.

Be careful – the floor is wet.
Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite for the new film.

Learn English IPA (44 sounds)

Use the interactive IPA chart and practice activities to master the sounds of English. 

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