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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Homophone Potpourri Series


The English language brings with it a never-ending list of homophones, or  words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings.¹ Many spelling errors occur because of confusion between homophones, so this week's tip features a "potpourri" of homophones for your comparison.

The following definitions are excerpts from Dictionary.com. Example sentences are original content provided by Accu-Assist.

Altar vs. Alter
Commonly confused phrase:
  Incorrect:   The groom anxiously waited for his bride at the alter.

Correct:      The groom anxiously waited for his bride at the altar.
●   Altar: an elevated place or structure, as a mound or platform, at which religious rites are performed or on which sacrifices are offered to gods, ancestors, etc.   (noun)
  Example:  Kevin serves as an altar boy at the church. 
(Altar is an adjective here.)
●   Alter: to change or make different; modify: altered my will.  (verb)
  Example: She took her dress to Katie's shop to be altered.
Sordid vs. Sorted
Commonly confused phrase:
  Incorrect:   The book contains a sorted story of deception and betrayal.

Correct:      The book contains a sordid story of deception and betrayal.
Sordid: morally ignoble or base; vile: sordid methods.  (adj.)
  Example:  She told us every sordid detail of the affair.
●   Sorted: To arrange according to class, kind, or size; classify.  (verb)
   Example:  He  sorted his music collection alphabetically according to each artist's last name.
Cavalry vs. Calvary
Commonly confused phrase:
  Incorrect:  The CALvary is coming!

Correct:     The CAValry is coming!
●   Cavalry: the part of a military force composed of troops that serve on horseback.  (noun)
  Example: We studied the weapons used by the infantry and the cavalry during the Civil War.
●   Calvary: Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Luke 23:33.  (noun)
  Example: The somber painting depicted Calvary on the morning before the crucifixion.

I'm sure the last pair of homophones, cavalry vs. Calvary, will come as a surprise to a few of my readers. However, there's no reason to feel bad if you didn't instantly recognize the difference. On numerous occasions, I've heard actors on television say "CALvary" when they clearly meant "CAValry." Luckily, neither word enters our vocabulary very often, so this certainly isn't something to fret about. Just keep this handy piece of information tucked in the back of your mind in case it pops up again one day.

Remember, spell-checker won't catch these words if they're used incorrectly, so be sure to a
dd the Grammar Tips & Tidbits Archive to your bookmarks or favorites folder for future reference.

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1. Wikipedia contributors. "Homophone." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophone (accessed April 22, 2008).

2. Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/ (accessed April 22, 2008).