Words We Confuse that Spellcheckers Miss, Part P2

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flower P and 2We continue our journey alphabetically through the most worrisome homophones. A reminder: homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. This is never a problem for speakers, but a constant irritation for writers.

Check out the second half of the long list of homophones starting with p. Do you ever confuse any of these?

Just to be sure, take our free quiz by clicking the link at the end of the article. Feel free to brush up first.

pi/pie

The mathematical ratio (π) is spelled without the final e. The dessert delicacy is spelled pie.

The teacher said, “I’ll give this apple pie to anyone who can recite the first twelve digits of pi.

pidgin/pigeon

Perhaps you’ve heard someone refer to pidgin English. It’s easy to assume the speaker meant pigeon English, but that’s not the case. Pidgin has nothing to do with birds. Pidgin is what results when people who speak different languages learn to communicate with one another. It’s a simple, rough sort of hybrid between languages.

The immigrant taught his pigeon to understand pidgin.

pistil/pistol

A pistil is the seed-bearing part of a flower. A pistol is a type of hand-held firearm.

He’s such a good shot, he can hit a tulip pistil with a pistol from thirty yards.

plain/plane

Both of these words are common, which makes confusion of the two common as well. To make matters worse, both words have multiple common definitions.

Plain can be an adjective meaning “clear and distinct,” or “easily understood,” or “candid and outspoken.” As a noun, it means a flat, low-lying tract of land.

Plane is often a noun, but can either be a two-dimensional surface, as in art or geometry, or a common abbreviation for airplane. Of course, in the realm of carpentry, a plane can be a tool for making surfaces flat or the act of smoothing a surface.

Some like fancy airlines; I like my planes plain.

plait/plate

The flat or shallow circular dish is a plate. At least that’s the most common use of the word. There are plates in geology, printing, and metal-working  too.

A plait, on the other hand, is a braid.

The clumsy waitress didn’t realize that her plait had fallen into the plate of spaghetti.

planar/planer/plainer

Triplets here. Planar means “related to planes.” See above.

A planer in carpentry or metalworking is a machine for making surfaces flat.

Plainer is a comparative adjective meaning “more plain.”

It couldn’t be plainer that it’s not necessary to know planar geometry to use a planer.

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plantar/planter

Planter is the more common word. It can refer to someone who plants or a container for plants. Plantar is used when referring to the foot, as in Plantar warts or Plantar Fascitiis.

That container shaped like a foot is a plantar planter.

pleas/please

Please can be a polite interjection when making a request, or it can be a verb meaning “to make happy.” When referring to more than one plea, or appeal, you are speaking of pleas.

Please listen to the accused man’s pleas.

plum/plumb

The fruit is a plum (no b). Plumb has several meanings. As a noun, it is a weight attached to the end of a line for measuring depth. Plumb can also be an adjective or adverb meaning perfectly perpendicular or in a perpendicular direction. As a verb, it can mean either to measure the depth of something using a plumb line, or to perform the actions of a plumber.

Jimmy tied a plum to fishing line and used it to plumb the depth of the sewer.

pole/poll

Two more quite common words that are sometimes confused. A pole is a long, often narrow,  cylinder. Poles can be made of wood, metal, concrete, plastic, etc. In racing, the pole is the innermost lane of the track.

Poll, on the other hand, can be a noun meaning a sampling or survey of data, or a location where votes are cast. Poll can also be used as a verb to mean “gathering data for a poll” or “to register votes.”

The results of the poll showed that a majority of citizens wanted telephone poles replaced.

poof/pouf/pouffe

Poof is a fun interjection — an example of onomatopoeia. But a high hairdo or headpiece is spelled either pouf or pouffe.

When poor Mrs. Wilson stood too close to the candelabra, her pouffe went poof!

populace/populous

These words are related and pronounced almost identically. Populace is a noun and means the same as population — the inhabitants of a particular location. Populous is an adjective meaning “full of residents” or “heavily populated.”

I realized how populous my hometown is when the entire populace showed up for the July 4th picnic!

pore/pour

A pore is a tiny opening, such as those found in the skin or a leaf, for perspiration or absorption. But pore can also be used as a verb to mean “to read or study with steady attention” or “to gaze earnestly.” It’s this verb-usage that writers often confuse with pour, which means “to send flowing from one container to another,” or “to produce in a steady stream or flood.”

As he ran, sweat began to pour out of his pores.

pray/prey

Pray is a verb meaning “to communicate with a deity” or “make an earnest petition.” Prey is a noun meaning “something that is hunted.”

Before heading out, the hunter would pray to find prey.

premier/premiere

These are fairly common words, but few know the difference between them.

Premier is typically an adjective meaning “first in rank; chief.” It is also a noun, however, meaning “a chief officer,” or “the prime minister of certain countries.”

Adding the final e changes the word to a noun meaning “a first public performance” or a verb meaning “to present publicly for the first time.”

The Premier of Italy attended the film premiere.

presence/presents

Both words are nouns. Presence is an abstract noun indicating the state of being in a place. It can also mean attendance. Presents, when pronounced identically to presence, is the plural form of present, which can mean either “the current time” or “a gift (something that is presented).”

Presents, however is also a heteronym (words with different meaning and pronunciation, but spelled the same). If you accent the second syllable, it’s a verb meaning “introduces.”

The children were excited by the presence of presents under the Christmas tree.

prince/prints

The king’s son is a prince. Prints is either a plural noun or a singular, present tense verb.

Harry works at Kinko’s on the weekends; in other words, the prince prints.

Terrible pun time: What did Cinderella say after ordering some photographs? “Someday, my prints will come.”

principal/principle

This is an old point of confusion for many. The trick for remembering the difference has worked for decades too: The principal is your pal. Principle is the abstract noun. The word with the -pal ending refers to the authority in charge of a school. What throws people off, however, is that principal can also be an adjective meaning “first or highest in rank.”

The principal thing is to honor the principle, “Always be nice to your principal.”

profit/prophet

Profit is what all businessmen and investors hope for. A prophet is someone who gives prophecies.

It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that Google, Inc. will make a large profit this year.

pros/prose

More than one professional would be referred to informally as pros. Pros might also be used to mean “points in favor” — the opposite of cons. Prose, on the other hand, is writing that is not poetry.

Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo are old pros at prose.

*****

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

Quiz: P-Homophones

Be sure to check out my other posts on commonly confused homophones:

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Leave your comments or questions below! Share your quiz score if you like.

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian 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. Will
    Will01-31-2013

    90% on the quiz (I mixed up premier and premiere)

  2. Amy
    Amy01-30-2013

    love the quizzes, can you make one for each of the troublesome word posts? I can get my homeschool teen boys to take the quizzes–they think they are fun, but reading the posts would be another story

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-30-2013

      I’m planning on doing just that, Amy. It may take me a while, but I’ll alert folks as I get them done. :)

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  3. Grammar Nut
    Grammar Nut01-28-2013

    Watch out for predators who prey on red-headed, left-handed cake decorators…

    LOL

  4. JJ
    JJ01-26-2013

    Mr. Wasko,

    My brother, my mom, and I were talking about how to use toward/towards in a subject/verb agreement. Is it proper to say, “He was knocked toward…” or “He was knocked towards….” I thought that this might be an interesting post.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-26-2013

      That’s a good idea, JJ.

      The answer is simple. There is no difference between toward and towards. They are identical in meaning and interchangeable. It’s simply a matter of preference. Some experts say “towards” is more common in the U.K..

      It’s not an issue of subject/verb agreement because toward/towards is a preposition.

      • JJ
        JJ01-26-2013

        Thanks a lot!

  5. JJ
    JJ01-25-2013

    I don’t know what is up with this, but when I click on the test, the quiz tells me that the page can not be found. I don’t know what the problem is. Can you look into this, please? Thank you.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko01-25-2013

      No wonder nobody was taking the quiz! I fixed the problem, JJ. Thanks for the heads up!

      • JJ
        JJ01-26-2013

        Thanks for fixing it, and I got 95%. These quizzes are so fun!

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