Homophones are two or more
words that sound alike, but have different meanings or spellings.
It is easy to understand
the difference between some homophones. For example, English learners usually
understand the difference between the word ate -- the past tense of eat
-- and eight -- the number.
But other homophones are
difficult, even for native English speakers.
Bear and Bare
One set of commonly
confused homophones are the words bear and bare.
Let’s start with bear
[b-e-a-r.] Of course, as a noun, a bear is a large, heavy animal with
thick hair and sharp claws.
But the word bear
[b-e-a-r] can also be a verb. It can mean “to accept or get through something,”
usually something difficult.
The verb bear is often used
with the modal verb can and a negation. Using this
structure, “cannot bear” sometimes means “strongly dislike.” If you
travel to a very cold place in the middle of winter, you might say, “I cannot bear
the cold weather.”
Bear can also mean “to
assume or accept something, such as a cost or responsibility.” For example,
“The man must bear full responsibility for his actions.”
Bear can also sometimes mean “to carry.”
For example, Americans often talk about the “right to bear arms,” or the right
of citizens to possess a gun.
Sometimes, people make
jokes about this expression. They replace the meaning of bear in this
example with its meaning as a noun. The phrase then means that people have a
right to possess a bear’s arm.
The past tense of bear [b-e-a-r] is bore [b-o-r-e]. For
example, you might hear a sentence like, “The company bore all of the
expenses.” In the present tense, bore is a verb in its own right. But
it has no relation to the past tense of bear.
Now let’s turn to the word bare
[b-a-r-e]. Bare is mostly used as an adjective. It means “not having a
covering” or “not covered by clothing, shoes or something else.”
If you just moved to a new
home, the walls could still be bare. And, if you take your shoes and
socks off before entering a room, you will have bare feet.
As a verb, bare [b-a-r-e]
is similar to its adjectival meaning. To bare means “to remove the
covering from something.” It can also mean “to show or expose.”
For example, an angry animal might bare its teeth. The past tense of
bare [b-a-r-e] is bared [b-a-r-e-d].
Sight, Site and
Next, we turn to three more
homophones: sight, site and cite. All three words sound exactly the same.
Sight [s-i-g-h-t] means one of your five
senses. As a noun, it is “the ability to see.” Sight can also mean “someone or
something that is seen.” For example, “The sunset last night was a beautiful sight.”
Another meaning of sight
is “a famous or interesting place in an area.” If you take a trip to the United
States, a tour guide might show you all the sights in New York City or
But some of those famous sights
are also sites [s-i-t-e-s]. The word site means “a place
where something important has happened.” It can also be “a place where
something is, was, or will be located.” So, if you like history, you might want
to visit important battle sites near Washington, DC.
Site has a few other
meanings. It is also short for website.
The third homophone, cite
[c-i-t-e], is a verb. It can mean “to write or say the words” of a person, book
or another source. It can also mean “to mention something,” usually to support
an idea or opinion. When you write research papers in school, for example, you cite
other sources to support your argument.
So, if you ever have a
disagreement with a friend about the English language, you can always cite
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