Friday, April 9, 2021

Those Dang Homonyms! Commonly Misspelled Words

by Jodie Renner, editor & author  

Are you at the proofreading stage of your writing project? Or just writing an email, social media post, or text message and want to make sure your spelling is correct?

Homophones/homonyms can often trip us up. If you sometimes have a "brain blip" about the spelling of some words that sound the same, bookmark this chart to help you with over 50 of the most commonly confused / misspelled sound-alikes in English

The list, with deliberately simplified definitions here, is in alphabetical order and includes some easier words you may know and others you may not be 100% sure of, such as rein/reign, illusion/allusion, oral/aural, cord/chord, pour/pore, compliment/complement, aisle/isle,  peddle/pedal, gorilla/guerrilla, exercise/exorcise, and lightning/lightening.

accept – take

except – all but this


affect – to cause change (verb)

effect – result of change (noun)


aisle – corridor in a store or church

isle – island

I'll – I will


allowed – permission to do

aloud – out loud (not silent)


allusion – an indirect reference to something

illusion – false impression, misconception


bare – unclothed

bear – wild animal


bazaar – open-air market

bizarre – strange, weird


beat – win, overcome; or hit, strike

beet – red vegetable


brake – pedal on vehicle

break – shatter, fracture


buy – purchase

by – go past

bye – goodbye


chord – musical

cord – string, rope; vocal cords


complement – goes well with

compliment – say something nice 


desert – dry, arid area    

dessert – sweet treat after meal

"just deserts" – got what was deserved


doe – female deer

dough – unbaked cookies, bread, etc.


exercise – exertion, action, practice

exorcise – to expel, to get rid of (evil spirits)


fair – not dark; unbiased; exhibition

fare – price for ride; food provided


farther – physical distance

further – additional


flea – bug

flee – run away 


gorilla – ape

guerrilla or guerilla – type of fighter


grisly – gruesome

grizzly – bear


heal – to make well

heel – back of foot


hear – sound

here – place


heroin – drug

heroine – female hero


hoarse – condition of throat/voice

horse – large animal


humerus – bone

humorous – funny


insure – get insurance

ensure – make sure


it’s – it is or it has

its – belongs to it


lightening – making lighter or paler

lightning – flashes in a storm


loose – not tight

lose – misplace, opposite of find


oral – related to speaking

aural – related to hearing


our – belongs to us

are – we are, they are


pain – hurt   

pane – window


peace – not war

piece – part, portion, fragment


peak – top of mountain

peek – look, glance

pique – excite, arouse (curiosity, etc.)


pedal – part of bike

peddle – sell


plain – not fancy

plane – flies in the sky


pore over – study carefully

pour over – dispense liquid 


principal – main, head of school

principle – basic truth or law


rain – droplets from the clouds

reign – monarch’s rule

rein – to lead a horse


review – look over, go over

revue – theatrical production

sail – part of a boat

sale – discounted prices

sole – one; bottom of foot

soul – spirit, spiritual part of person

stake – pointed piece of wood; prize; share

steak – cut of meat


stationary – not moving

stationery – writing materials


steal – take without permission

steel – metal

tail - part of animal

tale - story


than – compared to

then – what comes after


their – belongs to them

there – not here

they’re – they are


threw – tossed

through – pass in and out


to – where you’re going

too – also; excessive

two – 2


wait – don't go yet

weight – measure mass


weather – rain, snow, etc.

whether – choices


which – which one?

witch – woman with special powers


whine – complain

wine – beverage from grapes


who’s – who is

whose – belongs to ?


whoa – stop, cease

woe – sadness


write – create note, message, story with words

right – correct


you’re – you are

your – belongs to you

Do you have any others you'd like me to add? Please mention them in the comments below.

See also "Just the Right Word is Only a Click Away".

Have trouble remembering whether to hyphenate a word or not? Check out "It's All About Those Hyphens!"

For many more words, in alphabetical order, with explanations and examples, check out Jodie's two handy, clickable, time-saving e-resources for writers, editors, students, and anyone else with writing projects: Quick Clicks: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips 
With all kinds of internal links, they’re both super quick and easy to use! (They're designed to work on e-readers, tablets, laptops, and computers, but not phones.)

Click HERE to choose a way to receive email alerts of new posts published on this blog. 

Jodie Renner is a former English (and French) teacher, a freelance fiction editor and book coach,  and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.

Friday, April 2, 2021

A Single Word Can Change the Tone

by Jodie Renner, editor & author 

In your WIP, are you inadvertently tossing in a word here and there that jolts the readers out of your story or gives an incongruous impression?

Once you’ve completed a first or second draft of your story (or your muse is taking a break), now’s the time to go back and reread each scene carefully. Does every word you’ve chosen contribute to creating the overall tone and mood you’re going for in that scene? Or are some of your word choices unintentionally detracting from the impression you want readers to take away?

Is it possible you may have unconsciously inserted the odd “cheery” word into a tense scene in your story? Or a relaxed-sounding word in a scene where the character is stressed or in a hurry? Or maybe your teenager or blue-collar worker sounds too articulate? I’ve seen examples of these quite often in the fiction I’ve edited over the years.

For example, the heroine and hero are running through the woods, pursued by bad guys intent on killing them. The debut author, thinking it’s a good idea to describe the setting, uses words like “leaves dancing in the light” and “birds chirping” and “babbling brook.” These light-hearted, cheerful words detract from the desperation she’s trying to convey as the young couple races frantically to escape their pursuers. In this situation, it would be better to use more ominous words, perhaps crows cawing, a wolf howling, water crashing over rapids, or thunder cracking.

Read through each of your scenes and make sure every word you use to describe the setting, the people, and their actions, words, and thoughts contributes to create the impression you’re going for in that scene, rather than undermining your intentions.


Here’s an example, slightly disguised, from my editing. It’s supposed to be a tense, scary moment, but the author has, without thinking about the impact, inserted relaxed, even joyful imagery that counteracts and weakens the apprehensive mood he is trying to convey (my bolding).

He locked the door behind him, his harried mind ricocheting between frightened alertness and sheer fatigue. He took a furtive glance out the window. No one there, so far. Despite the cold, a warming shaft of morning sunlight filtered through the stained curtain, and languid dust particles slow-danced in its beam.

What had he gotten himself into? They would certainly be on to him now—it was only a matter of time before they found him. He looked out again through the thin curtain. Sunbeams were filtering through the branches of an old tree outside the window, the shriveled shapes of the leaves dancing in the breezeplaying gleefully with the light. He swore he saw movement on the ground outside—a figure.

Some of the wording in the two paragraphs above is excellent, like “his harried mind ricocheting between frightened alertness and sheer fatigue” and the phrases “furtive glance,” “stained curtain” and “shriveled shapes of the leaves.” But the boldfaced words and phrases, warming, languid, slow-danced, sunbeams, dancing in the breeze, and playing gleefully with the light weaken the imagery and tone because they’re too happy and carefree for the intended ominous mood. Perhaps the writer, caught up in describing the view outside in a literary, “writerly” way, momentarily forgot he was going for frightened.  

Check to be sure every detail of your imagery enhances the overall mood and tone of the situation.

Here’s another example where the description of the setting detracts from the power of the scene and doesn’t match how the character would or should be feeling at that moment.

The protagonist has just had a shock at the end of the last chapter, where she’s discovered her colleague murdered. This is the beginning of the next chapter, a jump of a few days.

  Mary gazed at the brightening horizon, immersing herself in the beauty of the rising sun. She watched as the dawn’s rays danced across the waves. Mary adored this time of day when the hustle and bustle had not yet started, and she could enjoy watching the waves wash in and listening to the seagulls overhead. It was one of the many reasons she loved this area so much.

  Since the murder of Teresa three days ago, Mary had been in a state of turmoil. Teresa’s death had changed everything. Gruesome images continually flickered through her mind like an unending motion picture. She could think of nothing else and was racked by guilt.

 To me, the two paragraphs seem contradictory in mood. If she’s racked by guilt and can think of nothing else, how can she enjoy the sunrise so much?

Be sure to choose words that fit the mood you’re trying to convey.


Here’s another example of a tense, life-threatening scene whose power and tension have been inadvertently eroded by almost comical imagery.


To read the rest of this blog post by Jodie Renner, published over at The Kill Zone Blog, click HERE.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION,  CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at, and on Facebook. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


 by Jodie Renner, editorauthor

Is it knockout or knock-out or knock outlockdown or lock-down or lock down?

makeup, make up, or make-up? lineup or line-up or line up? workout or work out or work-out? set up or set-up or setup?

(Hint: Most of the above can be correct, depending on whether it's used as a noun, adjective, or verb. And yes, there is a pattern.)

Is it an off duty officer or an off-duty officer? well laid plans or well-laid plans?

over-compensate or overcompensate? under-staffed or understaffed? semi-circle or semicircle? para-legal or paralegal?

As a fiction editor, I advise on everything from plot, characterization, viewpoint, dialogue, voice, style, pacing, flow, and more, down to final proofreading for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Today I’m wearing my “Grammar Geek” hat to talk about how to use hyphens correctly in various situations, to make your intention and meaning clear

No matter what kind of writing you're doing, you don't want your readers to stop and wonder what you meant, exactly. That can cause confusion and subliminal (or not so subliminal) irritation and could lose you respect as a writer. 

*Note that these are North American norms – British guidelines can vary.

~ Is it one word, two words, or hyphenated? 

Even very good spellers often forget whether a term is one word, two words, or hyphenated, so here are a few handy guidelines. 

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (that and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary are considered the go-to resources for North American copyeditors and proofreaders), 

“Far and away the most common spelling questions for writers and editors concern compound terms—whether to spell as two words, hyphenate, or close up as a single word.”

When we’re busy writing, it’s easy to forget, for even the easiest words, whether it’s one word, two words, or hyphenated. Often, each of those forms can be correct, depending on the part of speech and intent.

For example, you back up your files or back up to avoid walking into someone (an action, so verb). But it’s a back-up plan (adjective) and “My partner provided me with backup.” (noun)

Similarly, castoff(one word) is a noun – “That shirt is a castoff from my brother.”; cast-off” is an adjective – “She wore cast-off clothes.”; and cast off” is a verb – “He cast off the boat and we headed downriver.”

Many others follow the same pattern: cooldown (noun) – “We did a 10-minute cooldown,” cool-down (adj) – “Here are some cool-down exercises,” and cool down (verb) – “Time to cool down.”

And it’s “lookout” (one word) for the noun (thing) –“Let’s head to the lookout,” and the adjective – a lookout tower, but “look out” (two words) for the verb (action) – “Look out for snakes.”

And two slightly silly but correct examples:

The guy who cut off the other car at the cutoff was wearing cut-off shorts.

And finally, takeout (noun), take-out (adj.), and take out (v). “Let’s go to the corner takeout and take out some take-out food.”

So one word for the noun (person, place, or thing); two words for the verb (action): 

a workout (noun or adjective), to work out (verb) 

a setup (noun), to set up (verb) 

a hangout (noun or adjective), to hang out (verb) 

a lockdown (noun) to lock down (verb)

See a pattern here? Very often, 

- the noun form is one word, no hyphen: setup, login, makeup, hangout, workout, backup. Let's go to the usual hangout. I had a good workout. His partner provided backup.

 - the verb form is two words: set up, log in, make up, hang out, work out, back up. Want to hang out after class? Let’s work out this problem. I need to back up my files.

- and the adjective form is often hyphenated: hard-core poverty, a hands-off policy (see compound modifiers below).

 or can be one word, like the noun: backup plans, workout clothes.

(Although English being English, of course there are always exceptions, like break-in for the noun; but still break in for the verb.)

So these are all no-nos (incorrect): 

X "I need to logon, then logoff." Should be "log on" and "log off," as they're actions.

X "Let's setup the chairs." Should be "set up." 

X "Please makeup the bed." Should be "make up."

All are actions (verbs), so need to be two words. Just remember to separate off the up, down, out, on, etc. as its own word when it's an action.


(To avoid being overwhelmed by various examples of correct use of hyphens, maybe save the following ones for a later read. In fact, I recommend bookmarking this post for future reference.) 

~ Hyphenate compound modifiers before a noun. 

A general guideline is to hyphenate two or more modifiers before a noun (so an adjectival phrase), especially if to leave as two words could cause confusion; but to leave as two separate words when they come after the noun or verb (often functioning as an adverb). 

For example, “He’s a high-profile actor” but “He maintains a high profile.”

“It’s a middle-class neighborhood,” but “The neighborhood is middle class.”

“He asked an open-ended question,” but “The question was open ended.”

“It was a hands-down win,” but “They won hands down.”

“It was a computer-literate group,” but “The group was computer literate.”

“The school has a hands-off policy,” but “Keep your hands off.”

“They had a hand-to-mouth existence,” but “They lived hand to mouth.”

“The witness was an off-duty police officer,” but “He was off duty at the time.”

“I bought a flat-screen TV,” but “The TV has a flat screen.”

“My to-do list,” but “My list of things to do.”

"a black-and-white print" but "the truth isn't always black and white."

(Above is an example from the Chicago Manual of Style, which says no hyphens with other color combinations, eg. "a blue and yellow dress" or "a red and white flag."

“We strolled past side-by-side boutiques on the street,” but “Two clothing boutiques stood side by side on that street.”

~ But don’t hyphenate after –ly adverbs: 

Since the ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun. 

For example, a sharply worded reprimand, a smartly dressed woman, a hastily written email

~ Hyphenate to avoid confusion.

To avoid confusion or ambiguity, it’s often best to hyphenate.

For example, there’s a big difference in meaning between a small animal hospital (an animal hospital that’s small) and a small-animal hospital (a hospital for small animals).

Same with a small business owner (not a large person ) and a small-business owner.

And the hyphen in “three-ring binders” tells us that three is the number of rings, not the number of binders, as might be assumed with “three ring binders.”

Similarly, the hyphen in “much-needed advice” connects the much with the needed, so we know the advice is greatly needed, not that there’s a lot of needed advice.

And the hyphen in “fast decision-making” shows us that decisions must be made soon, not that they’re quick decisions.

~ Hyphenate where numbers are involved. 

Chicago Manual of Style says to also hyphenate adjective-noun modifiers, especially where the adjective is a number:

For example, a twelve-step program, a five-year-old child, (but "the child is five years old"-- no hyphen) a five-dollar bill, a ten-mile hike, a six-foot-tall man, a ten-pound fish, a sixty-foot-long boat.

Notice how when hyphenated before a noun, the plural is dropped: for example, a woman is five feet tall, but she’s a five-foot-tall woman. Pregnancy lasts nine months but it’s a nine-month pregnancy.

~ Sometimes a phrase needs multiple hyphens for clarity. 

Hyphenate when two or more words form a compound set of modifiers to describe a noun -- but NOT when the modifiers come AFTER the noun: 

He spoke in a matter-of-fact manner. But, "Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."

It’s an edge-of-your-seat suspense. This thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat.

That's an over-the-counter drug, but That drug is sold over the counter.

They had a back-and-forth conversation, but They spoke back and forth like that.

Other examples: high-school-age children (to avoid confusion with “high school-age children” (not a good thing!), a winner-take-all contest, a one-on-one game.

You might also see/need two hyphenated words that apply to a single word: He was given the pre- and post-operation instructions.

~ Hyphen between the prefix and the root word? 

And what about all those words with prefixes like re, un, de, pre, bi, mid, over, under, semi, sub, etc.? Is it re-read or reread over-conscientious or overconscientious? extramarital or extra-marital? under-employed or underemployed? semicircle or semi-circle? sub-category or subcategory?

Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style both favor (favour) not hyphenating after a prefix, so according to these two recognized authorities, none of the above should be spelled with the hyphen. These also are correct, no hyphen: overcompensate, understaffed. But British (and Canadian) dictionaries seem to hyphenate them more often.

However, for some reason, Merriam-Webster puts a hyphen after the prefixes self and well, as in self-defense, self-discipline, well-mannered, well-endowed, etc. 

And sometimes you need the hyphen to clarify meaning. For example, you recover a lost wallet, but you re-cover a sofa. Similarly with re-creation of the scene of a crime, to avoid confusion with recreation as leisure-time activities.

~ The trend toward closed compounds (one word, no hyphen): 

Common usage has a tendency to simplify terms. “Web site” gradually became “website”; “e-mail” is increasingly “email”; “on line” changed to “on-line” to “online.”

If you're not totally overwhelmed by all these rules, or for another time, if you'd like some help with dashes (em and en) and ellipses, see my blog post, How and When to Use Hyphens, Dashes, and Ellipses. 

Also, see "Those Dang Homonyms! Commonly Misspelled Words"

*Check out my two handy, clickable, time-saving e-resources for writers, editors, students, and anyone else with writing projects: Quick Clicks: WORD USAGE – Precise Word Choices at Your Fingertips and Quick Clicks: SPELLING LIST – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips. With all kinds of internal links, they’re both super quick and easy to use! (They're designed to work on e-readers, tablets, laptops, and computers, but not phones.) 

Click HERE for options to receive email alerts of new posts published on this blog. 

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling FictionWRITING A KILLER THRILLERFIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICKCLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child WorkersYou can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at, and on Facebook.