Some Tricky Homonyms

Words that sound the same but are spelled differently (a type of homonym) can be stumbling blocks in comprehension or when trying to communicate something in writing. If you know that there's "peek" "peak" and "pique," which one do you use to describe what your character did at the window? If you use the wrong one, then your character has reached the heights (peak) or is having a fit if anger (pique) by the window. Is that what you mean? Is the character simply looking through that window (peek)? As you can see, all these words sound the same but suggest very different things. Here are 32 vocabulary words that are often confused.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. capital
    wealth in the form of money or property
    The single market guarantees the free movement of goods, people, services and capital.BBC (Jun 6, 2016)
  2. capitol
    a building occupied by a state legislature
    The handsome Greco-Roman capitol building in Oklahoma City was finished in 1917 but a dome was not added until 2002.The Guardian (May 28, 2016)
  3. council
    a body serving in an administrative capacity
    The Trusteeship Council used to be where colonial issues were discussed, but in a post-colonial world it is used for other events.Washington Times (Jun 6, 2016)
  4. counsel
    something that provides direction or advice
    I know this to be true because Vince lived with me when he came to Washington to serve as deputy counsel to the president.Washington Post (May 26, 2016)
  5. peak
    the highest point of something
    Phone calls may go to voicemail during peak hours because long lines of students are seeking help, usually at the beginning and end of semesters.US News (Jun 6, 2016)
  6. peek
    throw a glance at; take a brief look at
    But when she peeked into the parlor, her mother was sitting alone at the seance table, her eyes closed, as if in a trance.The Son of Neptune
  7. pique
    a sudden outburst of anger
    Many of those acts involve Simeone’s sideline histrionics, which are notably piqued and pugnacious.New York Times (May 2, 2016)
  8. compliment
    a remark expressing praise and admiration
    “I hear you are quite the cook,” he compliments a woman who made McIntyre Thanksgiving dinner a few years back.Washington Post (Jun 4, 2016)
  9. complement
    something added to embellish or make perfect
    New precision medicine trials should complement, not replace, old long-term research trials, researchers say.US News (Jun 6, 2016)
  10. principal
    main or most important
    Remember, one of the principal, day-to-day responsibilities of the president is overseeing the executive branch of a global superpower.MSNBC (Jun 6, 2016)
  11. principle
    a basic generalization that is accepted as true
    President Ashraf Ghani called the attack cowardly and “completely against all the principles and values of Islam and humanity, and against all international laws”.The Guardian (Jun 6, 2016)
  12. sight
    the ability to see; the visual faculty
    I thought he was referring to the nighttime sight of the illuminated monuments.Wall Street Journal (Jun 5, 2016)
  13. site
    the piece of land on which something is located
    The Corps hasn’t issued permits for about 60 federal parcels including river crossings and a Native American burial site in northwest Iowa deemed culturally significant.Seattle Times (Jun 6, 2016)
  14. assent
    agree or express agreement
    He nodded his assent when they said he was a Barcelona fan and smiled when they named Messi as his hero.Washington Post (Apr 14, 2016)
  15. ascent
    a movement upward
    Her spider-like ascents up rock walls and cliffs have made her a viral sensation online and drawn the curiosity of late-night television .Washington Times (Jun 6, 2016)
  16. broach
    bring up a topic for discussion
    I suspect by then you knew why I behaved that way, but you didn’t want to embarrass me by broaching it. The Guardian (Jun 4, 2016)
  17. brooch
    a decorative pin
    A ruby, gold and diamond cluster brooch given to the Queen by her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, in 1966 is also on display.Reuters (Apr 20, 2016)
  18. elicit
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    The resulting artwork evokes existential questions and elicits emotional responses.Washington Post (Jun 2, 2016)
  19. illicit
    contrary to accepted morality or convention
    Thailand is a renowned centre of trafficking of illicit wildlife products, including ivory.BBC (Jun 4, 2016)
  20. hostile
    characterized by enmity or ill will
    In America, the news media’s response was mostly unfavorable, if not hostile.New York Times (Jun 4, 2016)
  21. hostel
    a hotel providing overnight lodging for travelers
    BKM is currently working on introducing solar energy to the village and building a hostel so the doctors can reside closer to the clinic.Washington Times (May 22, 2016)
  22. idol
    someone who is adored blindly and excessively
    With their cousin, the three girls emulated their idols, the all-women R&B trio the Emotions.Los Angeles Times (May 12, 2016)
  23. idle
    not in action or at work
    Normally he never sat down, was never idle.New York Times (Jun 3, 2016)
  24. incite
    provoke or stir up
    Even in liberal democracies they are starting to punish not only those who deliberately incite violence, but also speakers who are merely intemperate or shocking.Economist (Jun 2, 2016)
  25. insight
    clear or deep perception of a situation
    Sometimes these test results offer useful insights into student ability, but sometimes they obscure the truth.US News (Jun 6, 2016)
  26. profit
    excess of revenues over outlays in a given period of time
    Mary Barra was promoted from chief executive to president of General Motors in January, having guided the firm to record profits in 2015.BBC (Jun 6, 2016)
  27. prophet
    someone who speaks by divine inspiration
    He adds that “whatever our Lord says, whatever our beloved Prophet says, we shall follow that path.”Washington Times (May 30, 2016)
  28. sleight
    adroitness in using the hands
    And like other self-help authors, she pulls a sleight of hand by which even widely held assumptions end up looking like discoveries.Slate (May 8, 2016)
  29. slight
    small in quantity or degree
    Both candidates have promised to maintain Peru’s free-market policies while running slight fiscal deficits to boost infrastructure spending and support economic growth.Wall Street Journal (Jun 5, 2016)
  30. vain
    having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
    He might learn, for example, to care about his body without being vain; to fight without getting angry; to make himself heard without shouting.The New Yorker (Apr 14, 2016)
  31. vane
    mechanical device attached to an elevated structure
    We always hear that politicians are unprincipled weather vanes, slavishly following polls.Washington Post (Mar 18, 2016)
  32. vein
    a blood vessel that carries blood toward the heart
    “Then all the blood in my veins is stirred, and my understanding is sharpened.”Time (Jun 1, 2016)
Created on June 6, 2016 (updated June 16, 2016)

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