Words We Confuse That Spellcheckers Miss, Part S

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This is the next in our series on homophones–words that sound alike. We are working through these tricky terms that defy spellcheckers alphabetically. This post is the first of a two-part article addressing homophones that begin with S.

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sac/sack

These words are related, but sac is a biological term for a pouch within an animal or plant containing fluid. Sack is more broadly used. It can mean a bag (often rectangular in shape), getting fired, a base in baseball, tackling the the quarterback in the backfield (in American football), or it can be a slang term for a bed.

The quarterback was sacked so fiercely that he ruptured several air sacs in his lungs.

sachet/sashay

Both of these words are pronounced sa-SHAY. The first one, with the silent t, refers to a small bag or pocket usually containing perfumed powder or potpourri and used to freshen the scent of clothes. To sashay, on the other hand, is to walk or move in a dramatic, conspicuous, or ostentatious manner. In square dancing, sashay is a figure where the man side-steps behind the woman. Or something like that (I don’t square dance much).

Erma was so pleased with the nice smell her new sachet produced in her clothes that she sashayed into the party with conspicuous confidence.

sail/sale

Few confuse these common words. Sail, the noun, is a sheet of fabric used to catch wind and propel a ship. As a verb it means travel by a sailed vessel. A sale is a commercial transaction where goods or services are exchanged. It can also refer to a period where prices on a good are discounted.

The Ship Shop is having a sale on sails.

sari/sorry

A sari is a garment, common in southern Asia, made from a single, long piece of cloth draped to cover the body from shoulder or head to foot. Sorry is a common adjective meaning feeling regret or sympathy.

I felt sorry for the woman when she spilled tea on her sari.

saver/savor

Saver isn’t commonly used, but it’s not uncommon for people to misspell savor this way. Savor, as a noun, means the taste or smell of something. As a verb, it means either to give flavor to (season) or enjoy the flavor or odor of something.

A saver is someone who is inclined to save money.

Jane, a committed money-saver, felt the discounted ham had a distinctive savor.

scene/seen

A scene is a section or subdivision of a play or film, or, more broadly, the place of a particular occurrence or action — as in “scene of the crime.” Seen is the past participle of the verb, see, used in verb phrases like have seen, has seen, had seen, or have been seen.

I volunteered to get the popcorn during the scene I had already seen.

scull/skull

Most are more familiar with the skeleton of the head–skull. A scull, on the other hand, is another name for a short oar, or a small boat propelled by short oars. It can be used as a verb also to mean propelling such a boat.

I told Ed not to stand up in the boat, but he didn’t listen and cracked his skull on the scull.

sea/see/c

These words are so common we hardly notice they are homophones. The big body of water is sea. The verb that describes what we do with our eyes is see. And the letter of the alphabet is c. But you probably knew that.

Sea, you see, is not spelled with a c.

sealing/ceiling

Sealing is the present participle of the verb seal. Ceiling is the upper interior surface of a room.

In case of flood, Irma is sealing the floors, walls, and ceiling.

seam/seem

A seam is a line where two pieces of fabric are joined together. Seem means to appear to the understanding or by observation.

After that pizza, the seam of my jeans seems to be under duress. 

sear/seer/cere/sere

One of several quadruple homophones. Sear means to burn the surface with high heat–like you might do to a steak on the grill. A seer a prophet or prognosticator (some pronounce seer with two distinct syllables, making it only a semi-homophone). Cere is an obscure word and unlikely to be confused, but it means “to wrap in cerecloth.” Yeah. Cerecloth is cloth treated or coated with wax, since you probably didn’t know that either. Sere is an adjective meaning dry, withthered, arid.

The seer predicted that any attempt to sear the steaks at the community barbecue would produce a sere and tasteless meal; so we cooked them rare. 

seas/sees/seize/c’s

Two quads in a row! Seas is the plural of sea–a large body of salt water. Sees is the present singular of the verb to see. Seize is a verb meaning to take hold of suddenly or forcefully. And c’s is how you would write the the letter c if you have more than one of them.

Pirate McCarthy (spelled with two c’s) has been known to seize every ship he sees on the seas. 

seeder/cedar/ceder

A seeder is an implement or machine used for dispersing seeds. A cedar is a type of pine tree. Ceder is a rarely used word, but it means someone who cedes, or yields something.

Tom, the ceder of the forest land, watched as Ed used a seeder to plant crops where cedars use to grow.

sell/cell

These are common words and therefore easy to confuse. Sell is the verb, meaning to provide a good or service in an exchange. Cell is the noun. It can refer to a small room or compartment or the smallest structural unit of living bodies.

Bob sells microscopes to scientists who study plant cells. 

seller/cellar

A seller is one who sells things. Cellar usually means basement.

You can find the art seller downstairs in the cellar.

seraph/serif

A seraph is a high-ranking angel the plural version seraphim is more familiar. Serifs are the short lines that decorate the ends of lines in lettering.

It seems that serifs are appropriate when writing the name of a seraph.

serf/surf

A serf, you might remember from history class, was a person low in the social hierarchy in a feudal system. He would live and work the land owned by another. The noun surf refers to waves near the shore and the verb is to ride on them.

Because the manor farm was near the coast, the serf could rest from his labor by frolicking in the surf.

serge/surge

Serge is a strong cloth for making clothes. To surge is to move forcefully and suddenly in a particular direction.

When the doors opened, the crowd began to surge, everyone hoping to buy some discount serge for handmade clothing for the holidays.

session/cession

A session is a period of time for a particular activity. You might refer to a school session, a study session, or a jam session, for example. Cession, on the other hand, is the act of giving up something (ceding), as in power, rights, or possessions.

In the spring session of history, we learned that Germany had to make many cessions as a result of the Paris Peace Treaty.

sew/so/sow

To sew is to stitch with needle and thread. So is common adverb or conjunction. Sow means to distribute seed for crops.

My wife agreed to sew a patch on the seed bag I use to sow so I can get the field planted.

shear/sheer

To shear means to cut off hair or wool from a person or animal. Sheer is an adjective meaning steep (a sheer cliff) or thin and transparent (sheer cloth). Sheer is also a verb meaning to make a sharp, sudden change in course or direction.

Helga used the wool she sheared from her sheep to weave a sheer curtain for her bed.

shoe/shoo

When speaking of footwear, we mean shoe. To shoo is to move your hand and fingers to wave away critters or people.

Despite his efforts to shoo them, the flies swarmed around Edward from his hat to his shoes.

shone/shown

The past form and past participle of the verb shine is shone. The past participle of show is shown.

Earlier, Betty had shown Martha how her engagement ring had shone in the sun.

sic/sick

Sic is a Latin word meaning “thus” or “so.” It is used to indicate that an error in a quotation was part of the original and not the fault of the quoting author. Sic can also mean “attack” and is a command for a dog. Sick is an adjective most commonly meaning “unwell” or “ill.”

The cruel dog owner ordered Fang to sic the poor, sick beggar.

side/sighed

Side is so common a word that it is hard to define. It can mean a surface or a relationship (such as right or left) to the center of something. Sighed is the past tense of sigh, meaning to exhale audibly to indicate emotion.

Romeo sighed woefully when he learned Juliet belonged to the other side of the family feud.

signet/cygnet

A signet is a small seal used to indicate personal authority in lieu of a signature. It is often affixed to a ring. A cygnet is a young swan.

Anthony’s family home was famous for the swans that populated its pond, so his signet ring included the image of a cygnet.

sink/sync/cinque

A sink is a water basin with drain and faucet. The verb sink means to fall, descend, or drop below the surface. Sync is a shortened synonym of synchronize. Cinque is an obscure word referring to the number five in cards.

Before I sink into my chair for a nap, I must sync my cell phone with my computer.

slay/sleigh

Slay is a verb meaning to kill or murder. A sleigh is a vehicle for traveling on snow.

To prevent the maniac from attempting to slay me, I escaped in a horse-drawn sleigh.

sleight/slight

Sleight means deceitful craftiness and should be used in the expression sleight of hand, as opposed to slight, which means small and inconsequential or an insulting act or comment.

The magician made a slight mistake ruining his sleight of hand trick.

slew/slough/slue

Slew is the past tense of slay (to murder). Slough, when pronounced as slew, means a swamp. Slue means to turn as on an axis (it is also a variant of both slew and slough).

Beowulf slew the monster and threw its corpse in the slough.

 

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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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