Words: Some complimentary advice

Or should that be complementary advise?

Confused? You won't be alone if you are. Because the English language has almost 8,000 words that sound the same but have a different meaning. They're called homophones.

So which words are correct? Decide for yourself from the meanings below:

A) Complimentary – means given or supplied free of charge. It can also mean giving praise or approval.
B) Complementary - is used in the context of things that go together well – they complement one another, like shoes and polish, for example.
C) Advice - means guidance or recommendations offered, such as 'it's a good idea to check your spelling'.
D) Advise - means offer suggestions on the best course of action to take, such as 'I would advise you to check your spelling'.

Right or Wrong?
The answer? A and C. Well, it wouldn't look good to get the heading wrong, would it? But this example shows just how easy it is to make a mistake. By just changing one letter in each word results in a completely different meaning.

So you can see how using the wrong word could lead to confusion or amusement for the person reading a piece of copy.

Confusion because the meaning can be very different from that intended. And amusement because, for example, 'bare in mind' could conjure up a very different picture for your reader to the correct version 'bear in mind'.

And whether you confuse or amuse, your reader may not be very forgiving; seeing it perhaps, as a lack of professionalism. And that's something you definitely don't want to promote.

There are almost 200,000 words in the English Language so that leaves plenty of room for mistakes to be made.

Common words that can confuse
Unfortunately, knowing what a homophone is doesn't help you choose which is the right word to use. And spellchecker won't help you either, since it can't detect whether you're using the word in the right context or not.

But to help you identify some of the more common words that can trip you up, have a look at the list below:

• There, Their and They're (short for 'they are')

• Your and You're (short for you are)

• Know and No

• By, Buy (you buy a car) and Bye (short for goodbye)

• Stationery (paper etc.) and Stationary (not moving)

• Whose (belonging to ...) and Who's (short for who is)

• Its (possessive - belonging to it) and It's (short for it is)

• To, Two and Too (as in too much, too many, too long)

• Piece (of paper) and Peace (and quiet)

• Compliment and Complement

• Knew and New

• Here (where you are) and Hear

• Whole (complete or all) and Hole

These are just a few examples to help you with the worst offenders. With nearly 8,000 homophones in the English language, there are plenty more to catch you out. But if you're ever in doubt, have a look in a dictionary or google the word. Don't just type it and hope for the best, because you never quite know what it might conjure up in the mind of your reader. Or where it might take them.

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