Words We Confuse That Spellcheckers Miss, Part P1

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P and 1

We continue our ongoing series of posts about words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different definitions: homophones. These words cause problems for writers since spellcheckers can’t catch them. This post addresses the long list of troublesome homophones that start with the letter P. It never ceases to amaze me how many of these homonyms are part of our language. The P list is particularly long, so I’ve broken it into two posts.

packed/pact

Packed is the past form of the verb to pack: “I packed my case.” It can also be a participle (a verb form used as an adjective): “I squeezed into the packed elevator.” A pact, on the other hand, is a noun meaning an agreement or mutual commitment.

Our family had a pact that whoever packed for the trip first got to ride shotgun.

pail/pale

A pail is a bucket. Pale is an adjective meaning whitish or colorless.

Cosette turned pale when she spilled the pail of dirty water on the kitchen floor.

pain/pane

Two common words here that people often confuse. Pain is physical or emotional discomfort or suffering. Windows have panes of glass. Perhaps the sentence “I feel pain” might remind you that the pain you feel includes the letter i.

Charlie was in great pain after Hank threw him through the saloon’s gigantic window pane. 

Terrible pun time: My uncle used to be a glass blower. One day he accidentally inhaled. Ever since he’s had a pane in his stomach.

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pair/pare/pear

When you have two of something, you have a pair (noun). To pare (verb) means to cut off or down the outside or part of something. A pear (noun) is a type of tree-grown fruit.

With a knife, I pared a pair of pears.

palate/palette/pallet

Your palate is the roof of your mouth, or less literally, your sense of taste. A palette is an array of color or a board used to hold various colored paints for an artist. A pallet can refer to either a low bed or a platform for storing or moving goods.

Few appreciate my palate for art, but I like the palette Goode employs in his depiction of the urchin resting on a pallet. 

passable/passible

Neither of these words are particularly common, but when they are used, they are commonly confused. Passable means simply capable of being passed through or over. But passible, with an i, means capable of feeling or susceptible to suffering.

Charlie, barely passible, didn’t react when he learned that the canyon we had to cross was not passable. 

passed/past

Two common words that are often confused. Passed is the verb. Past is usually an adjective or adverb, though it can be used as a noun. Confusion arises because passed can also be used as an adjective in its participial form. Even the definitions heighten confusion.The primary definition for pass, or example, is “to move past; go by,” while the primary definition for past is “gone by or elapsed in time.”

My advice is to keep in mind that passed is related to the verb pass, so that if you say, “Six days passed,” you are expressing a complete thought: “Six days have gone by.” If, however, you say, “six days past,” you are using past as an adverb and you have a phrase meaning “six days ago.”

The Ford passed Chevy before the Honda flew past the Ford.

pause/paws

A pause is a temporary stop. Paws are the feet of  an animal with claws (which is not to be confused with a clause).

In the silent pause, I heard the sound of Bud’s paws on the porch.

Terrible pun time: A dog hobbles into a Wild West saloon on crutches. A hush falls and the dog says, “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.

peace/piece

Get these right. Peace is the abstract noun meaning tranquility or the absence of strife. A part or fragment is spelled piece.

He bought a small piece of land and settled down in peace.

peak/peek/pique

Another trifecta! The top of a mountain is a peak. To look quickly or surreptitiously is peeking. Pique is verb that can mean to affect with irritation and resentment, to wound, or to excite.

To pique your curiosity, I’ll give you a peek at the mountain peak.

peal/peel

The sound of bells is the word peal, which can be a noun or a verb. Peel, which can also be used as either a noun or verb, is the skin or outside layer — as in a piece of fruit — or the removing of the skin or layer.

Fred has to peel potatoes until the peal of the dinner bell.

pearl/purl

A pearl is a smooth, rounded bead formed in oysters. Purl is a verb familiar to knitters. It’s a kind of reverse stitch.

Grandma knitted and purled by the fire wearing her finest pearls.

pedal/peddle/petal

Students confuse these three words quite often. A foot-operated lever like you find on cars and bicycles is a pedal. The verb peddle means to carry items around for sale. The colorful flower part is a petal.

The unfortunate salesman, in town to peddle hair tonic, took a moment to admire the colorful petals in Mrs. Kowalski’s garden before punching the gas pedal and moving on.

peer/pier

Two common words are spelled peer: the noun meaning a person of similar rank or legal status, and the verb meaning  to look searchingly. If you mean the structure built on posts extending out onto the water, you should spell it pier.

Gatsby peered across the water at the green light on the Buchanans’ pier.

*****

Think you’ve got these down? Take the quiz and find out!

Quiz Homonyms P1

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.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Mary Brueggemann
    Mary Brueggemann01-16-2013

    I loved the terrible pun lines! Maybe you should do a post on those. 🙂

  2. JJ
    JJ01-07-2013

    I got 100%. I also agree that these quizzes are quite fun 🙂 .

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-07-2013

      Excellent. All my initialized commenters like the quizzes, check. You’re not related to CJ by any chance, are you JJ? Same last…letter… and all.

      • CJ
        CJ01-07-2013

        No, JJ is not related to me. xD

  3. CJ
    CJ01-07-2013

    I really like these quizzes. 🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-07-2013

      Thanks, CJ. They seem to add a little something extra. They are quite popular and easy to make. I promise to keep them coming.

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