How to Use Homophones
- Avoid errors. It’s important for writers to know their homophones really well to avoid grammatical and spelling errors. It takes some time, but you have to make sure you know “there” from “their,” “effect” from “affect,” and so on.
- Avoid ambiguity. This is a little trickier, but keep in mind that many words have several meanings, and you have to make it clear which meaning you intend. Make sure that the context leaves no doubt about your meaning, and if necessary add a sentence or so of clarification. (In creative writing, this rule is a little more relaxed, but it’s very important in essays.)
- Use puns sparingly. When homonym ambiguity results in humor, it’s called a “pun.” Puns are a very common form of humor, but not everyone finds them funny. To some people, puns are more likely to be more annoying than humorous. This is especially true in essays, where you should be focused on your argument rather than on being funny. If a pun comes into your head in a creative project, though, it’s OK to include it. [link to “pun” article?”]
When to Use Homophones
As we’ve seen, puns and ambiguity are OK in creative writing, but should be avoided in formal essays. And if you are going to use them in a creative writing piece, it should be deliberate and done for a reason. Accidental ambiguity is usually just confusing, but deliberate ambiguity can add layers of meaning to a creative piece. It’s all a matter of how carefully the author builds the ambiguity. Be aware that the puns will sometimes annoy your readers, you be careful with them!