Words We Confuse That Spellcheckers Miss, Part M

5

Homophones cause all kinds of problems for spellers. They are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently. I’m covering all the most common ones a piece at a time. Today’s post is all about the M-homophones.

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mach/mock

Mach is technical term referring to speed as it relates to the speed of sound, where mach 1 is the speed of sound (which is about 768 miles per hour). Mock is a verb meaning to imitate in a derogatory way, to parody, or make fun of.

All we could do was mock when Steve told us his motorcycle could reach mach 1.

made/maid

Two common words here, which are sometimes carelessly confused. Made is the past tense or past participle of the verb make. Maid once referred to any unmarried woman (short for maiden), but now more commonly references a female household servant.

The maid made the bed.

mail/male

Two more common words that people sometimes unconsciously confuse. Mail is either the act of sending something by carrier, or the thing sent. Male can be used as an adjective or noun to indicate the masculine sex.

The person who delivers my mail is male, not female.

Paths through corn

A Maize Maze

maize/maze

Maize is corn, derived from Spanish. A maze is another word for labyrinth.

To raise extra money, the farmer charged visitors to walk through a maze he created in his maize field.

mall/maul

The place for retail shoppers is a mall, or shopping mall, although the word is sometimes used for large, open, grassy areas for walking. A maul is a heavy hammer. Maul can also be a verb meaning to handle roughly or injure by physical force.

I needed a maul, so I went to the mall, where I was mauled by holiday shoppers.

manner/manor

Manner is a way of doing or happening. A manor is a large home and its land, an estate.

The manor was built in an unusual manner.

mantel/mantle

I mess this one up myself sometimes. A mantel (e-l) is the structure surrounding your fireplace, usually with a shelf on top. The robe that normally communicates authority is a mantle (l-e).

After coming in from the rain, the cleric hung his mantle to dry on the mantel.

marquee/marquis

A marquee is the roof-like sign above theaters. A marquis is a title of nobility (ranked below a duke and above an earl, FYI).

marshal/martial

A marshal is a military or government authority or a chief of police or fire department. Martial is an adjective meaning of war, warlike, or associated with war.

The new fire marshal took a martial approach to fighting fires.

marten/martin

I included this because it was news to me. A martin is a bird. A marten, on the other hand, is a kind of weaselly-looking martins and martenanimal. Who knew?

As he soared through the clouds, the martin spied a family of martens.

 

mask/masque

A mask is a covering for someone’s face. A masque — the fancy spelling — is a kind of costumed dance. I’m guessing the two words are related.

meat/meet/mete

Meat is the edible part of animals (my apologies to vegetarians for this blunt definition). Meet has several definitions, but it is most commonly used as a verb meaning to encounter, to join, or to become acquainted with. Mete is less common. It means to distribute or dole.

John and Carol  will meet at a banquet where the meat is meted out to the guests on wooden platters.

medal/meddle/metal/mettle

The two with d‘s should be pronounced differently from the two with t‘s, but most Americans pronounce all four of these words identically. Yet they all have distinct meanings. A medal is an award that is either pinned to the chest or hung about the neck. To meddle is to involve oneself uninvited in another’s affairs. Metal is the hard substance fashioned from ore. And mettle means courage or character.

Don’t meddle in the affairs of a soldier who wears a medal (made of metal) awarded for his display of mettle.

mewl/mule

To mewl is to cry or whimper like a baby, which is very different from a mule, which is the offspring of a horse and a donkey.

The child mewled all night when she learned the family mule had to be put down.

miner/minor

A miner is someone who works in mines. Minor is used several ways. It is a person under the legal age of adulthood. It is also an adjective meaning unimportant, small, lesser, or of little concern.

Minors should not be allowed to be miners.

moat/mote

A moat is a protective body of water surrounding a castle. A mote is a particle or speck.

Blinded by a mote in his eye, the knight fell clumsily into the moat.

moose/mousse

Moose is the large antlered animal common in northern climes. Mousse is the whipped dessert (or hair stiffener). Be careful in a restaurant that you know which one you are ordering.

I fed the moose some delicious mousse.

morning/mourning

The second is commonly misspelled. Morning is the early part of the day. Mourning is another word for grieving, especially after someone’s death.

The funeral and its attendant mourning will take place in the morning.

muscle/mussel

The anatomical tissue that moves your limbs is muscle. A mussel is a kind of shellfish.

The mussel shells required all her muscle to separate.

mustard/mustered

Mustard is the spicy yellow condiment. Mustered is the past tense of the verb muster, which means to assemble (troops) for battle.

After he mustered his soldiers for the battle, General Frankfurter enjoyed a hotdog with mustard.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

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  1. Angie Gergely
    Angie Gergely09-29-2012

    I’m always surprised when I have a student mix up PASSED and PAST, thought I can’t get them to sound differently no matter how many times I say them myself. So, it’s not surprising that a young writer would use one or the other incorrectly.

  2. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko09-26-2012

    Marshall is often spelled with two els in names.

    Glad this was instructive, Mary! I always learn while researching this stuff.

  3. Mary Brueggemann
    Mary Brueggemann09-26-2012

    Wow! I learned at least four new lessons this time. I’ve always used the wrong word when referring to our fireplace mantel. I’ve always spelled marshal incorrectly with an extra l. I would have guessed the wrong spelling for the birds. Finally, I never knew babies could mewl. Thanks!

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