Tricky Tricky Words
I asked some peers to give me some ideas about writing issues that represent their most aggravating pet peeves, and the first five responses all had to do with word confusion. Someone asked me to address the difference between lose and loose (“You can’t ‘loose’ your car keys for Pete’s sake!”). Another vented about principle/principal and complement/compliment, and so on. In my own experience, I have observed a great deal of confusion over they’re/their/there, you’re/your, weather/whether and many others. These are very commonly confused words, and people with college degrees and even with teaching jobs sometimes get them wrong.
First, let me say that we have the illustriously complex and convoluted rule system of the English language to thank for providing us such easily confusable terminologies. But the bottom line is that we often stop reviewing these concepts at higher levels of learning because the skill seems quite elementary when viewed from a grammatical perspective. What we need to do is lay out the issue by defining our terms.
HOMONYM: One of two or more words having the same sound and often the same spelling but different meanings. HOMOPHONE: One of two or more words pronounced the same but different in meaning, origin, and sometimes. HOMOGRAPH: One of two or more words spelled alike but different in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation. HETERONYM: One of two or more words that are spelled the same but that differ in pronunciation and meaning. (http://www.editingandwritingservices.com/homonyms.html)