Mind your P’s — Peak/peek/pique

2 min read

The English language is notorious for homophones — words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Perhaps you’ve mastered there, their, and they’re, but lesser-known words also fit the triple homophone bill. For example, you probably know the words peak and peek, but what about the third “P” You might not even know you’re making a mistake and often use them interchangeably. Have we piqued your interest? Here's a peek at how to mind your p's and differentiate them.

Peak

Peak is a flexible word since it can apply both physically and symbolically to things such as steeples and human ability. It can also be a noun or a verb, depending on the context it's used in. As a noun, a peak is the highest point — like on a mountain. It can also mean a person has reached his or her highest potential in terms of skill or achievements. It’s usually a positive thing, but sometimes people consider it disappointing since there’s nowhere to go but down.

To say that someone has peaked turns the noun into a verb. The intention stays the same, but instead of reaching the peak (noun), peaking (verb) is a process in itself. It’s the climb toward the highest, best, or most popular position.

Peek

Let’s take a sneak peek into the proper usage of this “P” word. To peek is to take a sneaky glance at something or someone — probably in secret. Don’t let the “ea” in sneak trip you up. Keep the double “E” for your furtive glances.

Maybe you peek through an open door or around a curtain to see what’s happening on the other side. Either way, you don’t to be caught since peeking is usually frowned upon. Peek is almost always a verb. It’s something you do, but you would still be correct if you used it as a noun like in the example, "Take a peek."

Pique

We’ve reached the hard one. You probably know the word’s meaning, but you might not be as familiar with its spelling. Lots of people write peek or peak in place of pique, so you’re not alone. Pique has French origins and it means to prick. If you say something piques your interest, it’s poking and prodding at your mind until you pay attention and watch that film, try that new hobby, or find out more information about that event in your community.

To pique is to invoke a reaction — whether it’s curiosity, irritation, or excitement. That’s the other thing about pique. It’s the only one of these three homophones that functions solely as a verb.

Using the correct “P” word

What better way to remember how to use these homophones than with mnemonics? Since peak is the highest point, think of a capital letter A. It looks like the summit of a mountain, so you’ll know peak belongs here. You use your eyes to peek, so there are a few ways you can remember this one. Eye and peek both have two E’s and the two E’s together look like eyes.

Pique is trickier, but you can think of how poking someone is irritating. Whatever piques you can also irritate you, so use the “I” in pique and irritate to remind you that the two go together.

Photo credit: Dmitry Zimin/ Shutterstock

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