Making revisions and self-editing is a daunting task, especially when you get to the line-editing part. This is because many frequently used words are "homonyms" or sound-alike words. I think of them as “shapeshifters” because they blend into the background perfectly, hiding their alien nature.
At times, only a homonym, a word that sounds very much like another, can be used in a sentence. That similarity makes it hard to know which word is the correct word in a given circumstance, and when you are spewing the first draft of a manuscript, autocorrect may "help you" by inserting the wrong instance of those words.
If their meaning is similar but not exactly the same, negotiating the chicken yard of your manuscript in the second draft becomes quite tricky.
This is where the diligent author does a little research. We go to the internet and Google every possible spelling of the word and decide which of the sound-alike words is the one we want to use.
Consider whether or not you want to use the word "ensure."
There are three words that could work, and they sound alike. They have similar but different meanings. So I do my research:
Some other oft confused soundalikes are (these are borrowed directly from the Purdue Online Writing Lab)
One of my worst failings is the word "it." If I am going to muck up my manuscript, this word will be a major culprit. I try to do a global search for every instance, and make sure the word is correctly used:
Its… it’s… which is what and when to use it?
The trouble here can be found in the apostrophe. In probably 99% of English words an apostrophe indicates possession, but occasionally, it indicates a contraction.
I highly recommend you go to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for a complete list of often used homonyms. Purdue OWL is an excellent resource for information crucial to the craft of writing. Much of what I know about the craft comes from there.
When you're in the throes of a writing binge, you write as it falls out of your head. But these “shapeshifter” words are frequently misused and are difficult to spot at first glance. Their ability to blend in can lend confusion to the second draft. The problem is, you will see the word as you intend it to be, not as it is written, so these are words you must pay attention to. Sometimes, doing a global search will locate these little inconveniences.
Some words stick out like sore thumbs when we are reading:
But some are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that it is best to simply look it up to make sure you are using the right word for that context. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.
Searching for these words and sorting them out is a time-consuming task, but it is crucial that you do this, especially if you don’t have the funds to hire a line editor. It’s a job I have come to think of as sorting the rattlesnakes out of the chicken yard, and is a fundamental part of making your manuscript submission-ready.
" Spelling: Common Words that Sound Alike," Purdue OWL, Contributors: Purdue OWL, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/660/01/ (accessed December 28, 2017).
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.