Is There a Grammar Maven in the House?

Two grammar questions.

I know a homonym is a series of words that sound the same, usually spelled the same, but have different meanings…

Question 1: is it really “usually” spelled the same or is there a different term for words that sound the same, are spelled differently, and have different meanings. I think the answer is no, but I’ve seen the modifier “usually” only sometimes in the definition of a homonym.

Which brings us to the next part. There are three words, “to,” “two,” and “too.” Sound the same, different spellings, different meanings.

Question 2: in conversation we’d say, “There are three ‘tos’ in the English language.” But how the hell do you write that? Did I pick the correct to|two|to in that sentence?

Someone at dayjob asked me that question and I realized I couldn’t answer it. Often I am asked questions like this at dayjob because of my large capacity for gray cell manipulation (translation: me smarty). But this one has me stumped.


  1. But writing that there are three to’s in the English language isn’t really true. There’s only one ‘to’. And one ‘too’. And one ‘two’. So, in addition to ‘to’, there are two other words that sound like ‘to’ – ‘too’, and ‘two’. Which means you should really write that “there are three words in the English language that *sound like* ‘to'”. However, that’s not strictly correct either, because it doesn’t really make any sense to say that the word ‘to’ sounds like the word ‘to’. It’s kinda obvious. So, it might be best to write something like “the word ‘to’ has two other words that sound just like it, too.” And by doing that we work all three of those words – ‘to’, ‘two’, and ‘too’ in the same sentence. Simple, eh.

  2. I’m pretty sure the word you’re looking for is homophone, two (or more) words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Homonym refers to two words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.

  3. Okay, maybe homophone. But the definitions I saw about homonym used the modifier of “usually” which I thought would allow for non-spelled-samely words. :)

  4. definition of homonym.

    They used “often” not “usually” as I made reference to above. :(

    I hear you though. There are many ways to communicate this through writing, and I could think of some before I wrote the post. I just felt a little stumped when I was asked the question because I hadn’t really thought about it before.

    But homonyms and homophones are yet another reason why I think English is a sad, sad language. Or maybe it’s just my command of it that is sad. :P

Comments are closed.