Tag Archives: homophones

Homophobes Against Homophones: Why Words Matter

This is just ridiculous, but it shows, painfully clearly, why language and being educated about language, matters.

The social media specialist for a language school was fired for writing a blog post about homophones (words that sound the same but aren’t), because the owner presumed–or thought others would presume?–the post was about gay sex.

Seriously, I can’t believe this happened (here’s the original story). Take a second to let that soak in:

  • School that focuses on language for non-native speakers
  • Has blog post about a basic issue that non-native speakers encounter when learning language
  • But the name for that issue is vaguely, distantly related to a different word
  • Causing the owner–who had to look up the definition–to fire the blog writer.

The fire-er actually said, “People at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.”

Mind = blown

Barney expresses my feelings quite well.

I mean, of course they would! It’s not like they have a language school they can attend where they can learn these things!


Awkward gif


Just for our brilliant language school owner’s edification, some common homophones include:

  • their, there, they’re
  • threw, through, thru
  • mourning, morning
  • air, err, heir, are* (in some dialects)
  • flee, flea
  • flew, flu
  • rain, reign, rein

Also, some other words that begin with “homo-” but have nothing at all to do with gay sex (plus definitions!):

  • homogeneous: having the same structure, being composed of similar parts
  • homologous: matching in structure
  • homocysteine: an amino acid found in the blood of mammals and appears to be associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease
  • homoiothermic: warm-blooded
  • homocercal: relating to a fish fin, having upper and lower lobes that are approximately symmetrical
  • Homo sapiens: mankind, human beings (that’s right sir, you are indeed Homo!)

This is just one of the many reasons learning the ins-and-outs of your language is so vital—so that you don’t make a fool of yourself on a national stage like this school-owner just did. I hope the blogger finds a new job swiftly; it will undoubtedly be an environment more open to actual learning!

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What’s the Diff? Past vs. Passed

A quick visit from your friendly neighborhood grammarian, here today to explain an easy mistake that spellcheck won’t discover!

Past vs. Passed

As with many homophones–words that sound the same but mean different things and are spelled differently–it’s easy for your brain to say “past” and your fingers to helpfully write “passed.”

Quick reminder: Past means “things that happened before” (as in not the present nor the future); or nearby, as in “beyond”; or sometimes, “to be on the further side of”

Passed, on the other hand, can mean the opposite of failing on a test; the past tense of “to pass,” as in “to have gone by previously”

The definition you want will help make it clear which of the two you need.


He passed his very important test. He was glad it was now in his past. In the first part, he did not fail the test, but got good marks (passed). The second sentence is about when the test took place; it is no longer in the future or the present (past).

Joanna walked past Betsy, refusing even to look at her; she passed her right by. Betsy, in return, looked right past Joanna.
Joanna walked on the other side of (past) Betsy, and she did it previously (she passed), so that sentence needs both words. Betsy uses a different meaning to look beyond (past), rather than at, Joanna.

Moving from the future into the past, time passed.
This might seem tricky, because both uses involve time, but it’s not so bad. The name we use for time that has already happened (the past) is the place that time, as a noun–that is, as a thing–is moving toward, so in this case it went by previously (passed).


So when you’re looking at a statement like “The black cat walked ____ Bryce,” how do you know which to use?

Look at the definitions, and try to fit one in.
-thing that happened before (past)
-nearby (past)
-to the other side of (past)
-to pass a test (passed)
-went by previously (passed)

“The black cat walked nearby Bryce.” The word you need is therefore past.

If the sentence were instead “The orange cat _____ Bryce,” the word “nearby” no longer fits. Now, “went by previously” is a better fit–“The orange cat previously went by Bryce.” That orange cat just passed him.


This can be tricky because your spellcheck won’t pick up on this mistake, so look over your text carefully to figure out which word you really need.

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