Chapter 5

Confusing Words and Homonyms

Many words in English sound or look alike, causing confusion and not a few headaches. This chapter lists some of these words, and other troublemakers.


Use a when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a consonant. Keep in mind that some vowels can sound like consonants, such as when they're sounded out as individual letters. Also, some letters, notably h and u, sometimes act as consonants (home, usual), other times as vowels (honest, unusual).
Examples: a yearning
a hotel
a U-turn (pronounced “yoo”)
a NASA study
Use an when the first letter of the word following has the sound of a vowel.
Examples: an unfair charge
an honor (the h is silent)
an HMO plan (H is pronounced “aitch”)
an NAACP convention (the N is pronounced “en”)
This is a fine distinction that some consider nitpicking. Terms such as FBI, HMO, and NAACP, although widely called acronyms, are actually abbreviations. The difference is in how they are spoken. An abbreviation, also called an initialism, is pronounced letter by letter. An acronym is pronounced as if it were a word. The abbreviation FBI is pronounced “eff-bee-eye.” The acronym NASA is pronounced “nassa.”
Accept means “to acknowledge” or “to agree to.”
Except is usually a preposition used to specify what isn't included: I like all fruits except apples.
See abbreviation, acronym.
Ad: short for “advertisement.”
Add: to ...

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