“A” Before “E” — Homophones You Need to Know

Wednesday, February 22 min read

While much of today’s written correspondence receives the benefit of spellcheck, it’s still dangerously easy to make a grammatical gaffe by swapping out commonly confused words. Some of the most easily confused homophones swap the vowels “a” and “e” at the beginning of the words. Give yourself a lesson on the most common examples to save you a headache when you’re writing an email.

What Are Homophones?

A quick refresher: A homophone is a word that has the same pronunciation but a different spelling and meaning from another. The word “homophone” breaks down to “homo,” meaning the same, and “phone,” a spoken part of speech. English is full of homophones, but “they’re,” “their,” and “there” as well as “you’re” and “your” are some of the most commonly used.

Homophones can function as different parts of speech: one word may be a noun, while another may be a verb or an adjective. What’s the best way to check that you’re using the right word?

Affect vs. Effect

The homophones “affect” and “effect” are easy to mix up because the meanings are similar, but they serve different functions. “Affect” is usually a verb, which means it’s usually part of the action. Think of “activity or action” to check if “affect” belongs in a sentence.

Example: Our fight affected my mood. (The activity of our fight affected my mood)

“Affect” can be used as a noun, but it refers to emotion or behavior in a psychological sense and is not often used in everyday contexts. A doctor might describe the “flat affect” of someone with depression, for example.

In contrast, “effect” is mostly used as a noun to highlight the result of an action. To confirm if “effect” belongs in the sentence, try putting an article, such as “the” or “a,” before it.

Example: The effect of the power outage was disastrous.

Another infrequent exception, “to effect” is a verb meaning “to cause or bring about.”

Example: My goal was to effect change at the city council level.

Accept vs. Except

This word pair might be slightly debated as homophones, depending on the speaker’s accent, but they are still easily swapped. Similar to “affect” and “effect,” the rhyming “accept” and “except” function as different parts of speech. “Accept” is a verb, meaning to receive something, usually on behalf of a subject.

Example: I’m thrilled to accept this promotion.

Contrast that with “except,” which works as a preposition. A preposition has many definitions, including “a word that introduces a noun.” “Except” is used to set a noun apart from the rest of the sentence.

Example: All of us are going to the concert, except Daniel.

Access vs. Excess

“Access” and “excess” offer their own challenges, but they may be easier to tell apart through pronunciation and stress on different syllables. The emphasis goes on the first syllable for “access” (AKS-ess), while “excess” is stressed on the second syllable (ex-CESS).

“Access” functions as both a noun (meaning an approach) and a verb (to approach or obtain).

Example: I need access to the roof if I am going to access the heating ventilation.

Instead of referring to an approach, “excess” describes exceeding amounts, either as a noun or an adjective.

Example: He was running an excess of 10 miles per day, which his wife thought demonstrated excess energy.

“A” and “e” can often be swapped around in spelling errors, but with these homophones, using the wrong word can drastically change your meaning, so it’s worth remembering some of these tips.

Feature image credit: DragonImages/ iStock

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