Do you want to improve your English-speaking skills? If you are learning to speak English and you want great quality free English language lessons which focus on the speaking and listening part of learning the English language, then you just hit the jackpot! Adept English specialises in helping you to learn English, speak English fluently. We use a “learn through listening system” which is a fun and an easy way to learn to speak English.
So in today’s English language lesson we will cover one of those grammar topics that comes up more when speaking English. The English language has the annoying habit of using words that sound exactly the same but are spelt differently and mean different things. Now this is not a big problem if you are reading and writing in English, but it’s a huge pain when you speak in English.
So today we identify the area of English grammar we work with, identify some of the most common problems words. Give you some ideas on how you might remember what exactly each word means given the context of the conversation. As always, we provide you with lots of example sentences with the words being used, so you can practice.
We provide a free transcript of the lesson as a pdf and you can download these lessons for free from our website.
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Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. We are here to help you if you want to learn English, speak fluently and understand everything you hear! So practise your English understanding by listening to Adept English free spoken English lessons.
How about I call this podcast ‘Hooray for Homophones’?! Homophones are something that are common in English and can be confusing for English language learners. So what’s the definition of a homophone first of all? Well, words are considered homophones, that’s H-O-M-O-P-H-O-N-E, homophones when two or more words sound the same, but they have different spellings and different meanings. And the word homophone itself? Well, this is a Greek word in origin. ‘Homo’, H-O-M-O means ‘the same’, like in the word ‘homogenous’ or ‘homosexual’ and ‘phone’, P-H-O-N-E just means ‘sound’ or ‘sounding’. So homophones are part of English grammar and the word ‘homophone’ just means ‘sounding the same’. You’ll already know some homophones in English, but you may not realise it. Take for example the word ‘to’, T-O and the word ‘two’, T-W-O and the word ‘too’, T-O-O. Do you know these words and do you know the differences between them? Well ‘to’, T-O is just the preposition we use. ‘I go to the shop’. ‘I go to my house’. But if you spell it ‘two’ T-W-O – it means the number 2, there are 2 of something, you have a pair perhaps, like two feet or two eyes. And if I say ‘Can I come too?’ that ‘too’ is spelt T-O-O and it means ‘Can I come as well?’. So ‘too’, T-O-O is rather like ‘also’. So generally there will be context – where the word fits in the sentence and the meaning of the sentence will help you recognise which sort of to (two/too) it is.
OK, so you get the idea. There are lots of homophones in English – and there are more common ones like ‘to, two and too’. Or how about ‘no’, N-O meaning you’re refusing, you’re saying ‘No’ and ‘know’, K-N-O-W as in the verb ‘to know’ something, to have knowledge of it? Well, usually you’ll understand the difference here again by the context. It will be clear whether it’s a verb or whether it’s you refusing something, you saying ‘No’. It’ll be clear from the context. So what about some less common homophones and ways to remember which way to spell each meaning?
Another set of common homophones in English is by, bye and buy. So just to clarify – the word ‘by’, B-Y, rather like ‘to’, T-O, it’s a simple preposition. You would talk about a book being ‘by’ its author, its writer, like ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ by J K Rowling. Or I might use ‘by’ to mean that I walked ‘by the side of someone or something’. So you could say ‘The cinema, which is by the kebab shop’. So here ‘by’, B-Y means ‘next to’. If we take the next sort of ‘bye’, so B-Y-E, then in English, this is short for ‘goodbye’. So ‘goodbye’ is what you say when you’re leaving a place or a person. Except that ‘goodbye’ is very formal and most people are more likely to say ‘Bye’, B-Y-E instead. There are a lot of other words and expressions in English which people use to mean ‘goodbye’ or ‘bye’, but this is the meaning of ‘bye’, B-Y-E. ‘Bye’, B-Y-E is much more common in spoken English than in written English. And the third homophone of ‘buy’ is spelt B-U-Y and this you’ll probably know already as well, it’s the verb ‘to buy’. So this is what you do when you go shopping, or maybe when you log onto Amazon – you buy things. So ‘by’ B-Y, ‘bye’ B-Y-E to say goodbye and ‘buy’ B-U-Y, ‘to buy’ meaning to purchase something. They’re another group of homophones.
So what about some others, some less well-known homophones?
Well, there’s ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’. I’ll pronounce those slightly differently to emphasise the different spelling – stationAry and stationEry, but normally you wouldn’t hear much difference between those two words being said. So the first one, stationAry, so spelt S-T-A-T-I-O-N-A-R-Y. It means something is at a standstill, it’s stopped, it’s not moving. And the word is usually used about something you would expect to be moving – like traffic. So you might talk about ‘stationary traffic’. We have a lot of that in the UK. So that’s staionAry, whereas stationEry, spelt S-T-A-T-I-O-N-E-R-Y means all those lovely items which find their way into your home from the office – paper, envelopes, pens, pencils, rubbers, paperclips, post-It pads. All those nice items which you use in the office together are called ‘stationEry’ with an E at the end. So ‘stationary’ - think of A train, standing at the platform on a railway station – it’s stopped, it’s stationAry. And for ‘stationEry’, think of E for ‘envelope’ or ‘envelope’. An envelope is what you’d put a letter into before you put it in the post. So that is the homophones ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’.
Let’s do a couple more of these in a minute. First of all, let me remind you about our courses, on our website at adeptenglish.com. If you’re looking to learn English, speak fluently and work on your English conversation, then buy our Course One: Activate Your Listening. This is a course which has lots of podcast-like recordings, and stories, but they have also vocabulary explanations, which you can listen to, so that you can understand the recordings, really importantly without translating into your native language. This is really important – that you learn English in English! The course also gives you English conversation lessons – and I run through the conversations afterwards, the vocabulary and the meaning to help you, so that you can understand it – and then listen again. The course also helps give you English speaking practice. I think you have to experience it to know the benefit of this type of learning. Anyway go and have a look if you’ve not bought it already and use listening to help you learn English speaking.
Back to homophones now. What about a some more pairs of homophones? Mmm, there we are – there’s a word, which is one of a pair of homophones., What about ‘pair’ PAIR and ‘pear’ PEAR? Well, a ‘pair’ means two of something, which go together. So a pair of shoes or a pair of gloves, or we’d actually say in English a pair of sunglasses or a pair of trousers – even though these pairs are kind of stuck together as one item?! So ‘pair’ P-A-I-R means two of something which go together, and ‘pear’, P-E-A-R? Well, that’s a type of fruit, which grows on a tree, a bit like an apple, but fatter at the bottom. You might eat ‘pear tart’ or drink ‘pear cider’ or pear juice.
Another set of homophones? Let’s go for something a bit more difficult now. What about compliment and complement?. So with emphasis on the different sound ‘complIment’ C-O-M-P-L-I-M-E-N-T and ‘complEment’ C-O-M-P-L-E-M-E-N-T. So let’s start simply. A ‘compliment’, with the ‘i’ in the middle – is a noun. And it’s a nice thing that you say about someone. So ‘You look really lovely today’ would be a compliment. Or ‘What a wonderful house you have’ is a compliment. Or ‘Wow! Your English language skills are really coming on!’ Those are compliments. And there’s also a related adjective ‘complimentary’. So you could say ‘His comments about my spoken English were very complimentary’ or ‘People were very complimentary about my new dress!’. What’s perhaps confusing here with this word ‘complimentary’ - it’s also used to mean when something is a free bonus, a ‘freebie’, like you might get ‘complimentary peanuts on your airplane journey’, or you might get ‘complimentary tickets for the theatre’ through your work. So you can remember this by thinking about it - it’s as though the peanuts or the theatre tickets are ‘complimenting you’! They’re complimenting you by being free!
A stunning picture of a lake in the mountains, with wooden boats on the water in the foreground and mountains and forest in the distance. Used as an article image for the article Learn English, Speak Fluently And Understand Everything You Hear: Homophones Article Image
And complement, with an E in the middle? Well that means something that goes well with, fits with something else. So complement is the noun here, and there’s ‘to complement’ meaning ‘to suit, to go with, to fit with’ and then there’s the adjective ‘complementary’, again meaning ‘fitting with’, ‘going with’. So you might say that the ‘wine complemented the cheese perfectly’, ‘the Pinotage complemented the mature cheddar perfectly!’ Or that your dress complemented your shoes perfectly. Or that two colleagues who work together complement each other’s skills very well. In Maths, complements of 100 would be 35 and 65 or 42 and 58 – so complement can mean a mathematical term – so ‘fitting together to make a whole’. So you might talk about ‘a ‘full complement of team members’ or a ‘full complement of staff’ or perhaps even ‘a full complement of chess pieces’. You’ve got all the people or the parts that you need, none are missing. That’s called a ‘full complement’.
So there we have it – compliment and complimentary and complement and complementary. If you can remember the differences for those last words, you will be better at English than many English speakers, who get these last two confused. So learn English,speak fluently by listening to this podcast a number of times, until you can understand all the words and remember the meanings! Learn English speaking the easy way – through listening!
Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.