More pesky homophones to trip you up.

Reading online articles and posts – even from journalists or ‘expert commentators’, as well as comments below opinion pieces, I’m constantly finding the wrong homophone used. Earlier this week I fell across the Joker in the pack. I’ll tell you about that later.

Two of my old ‘favourites’ regularly turn up: phased for fazed, and laying for lying. Phased is discussed here.


1/ Laying/Lying

Let’s get laying vs lying out of the way: I believe part of the confusion of laying for lying stems from card games, where you ‘lay’ the cards down. (‘lay down misere’ is Australian gambling slang for a predicted easy victory.) By extension of this use of lay, people say they ’lay down’ for a snooze, or even ‘lay down’ dead.

Lay as a verb refers to putting something down. Apart from laying playing cards down, it’s possible to ‘lay the table’ (put plates, glasses and cutlery on the table). You can lay a bag on the chair, or a book on the table, or your keys on a shelf near the door.

Other than that, the use of ‘lay’ as a verb mainly refers to chooks. Chickens, turkeys, geese, and other birds all lay eggs. They put them down gently in their nest or nesting box. The eggs are laid (past tense of lay).

The past tense of lie (to tell an untruth) is not ‘laid’. It is ‘lied’.

!REMEMBER: Only chooks and birds lay. People lie down, (and sometimes lie to other people).

Let’s lay lay and lie aside, and focus on other homophones that keep popping up.

2/ Affect/effect:

The meanings of these two words are linked, so it’s no surprise that people often get them confused. It’s easy to think they are two ways of spelling the one word. Although linked, they are two separate word forms.

Affect is a verb; it’s an active word, meaning to act upon, to produce a change in something or someone. ‘I was greatly affected by my first sight of the river.’

Effect is a noun, and is generally the result of being affected.

!REMEMBER: An effect is the end result of being affected by someone or some thing. ‘The effect of that first sight of the river was wonder at its beauty.’



Another homophone mix-up that’s turning up more often, even in ‘good writing’. (Too often that’s the effect of the lack of sub-editors and proofreaders at media organisations affected by falling advertising revenue.)

Bare can be an adjective or a verb. A person can ‘bare their soul’, by revealing their inner thoughts; or bare their arms by rolling up their sleeves. If he takes his shirt off, we see his bare chest.

Bear (as a verb, not a noun) means to carry.

For example, an institution such as a major bank can be forced by a Royal Commission to bare its poor financial practices (and we, the borrowers and taxpayers must bear the cost.)

!REMEMBER: Apologies: the only mnemonic I could come up with is ‘Banks showing bare-faced arrogance; can we bear it?’


This spelling confusion has surprised me by turning up recently in articles by reputable journalists (see my comment about media, above). Although they are homophones, that seems to be their only link. Yet when we look at their etymology the connection becomes clear. Both forms of born(e) are derived from the verb ‘to bear’.


Born without an e is perfectly commonplace. We all know what ‘to be born’ means. Pregnant women giving birth are described as ‘carrying a child’, and in giving birth, the child is born.

Borne is less common in everyday speech, but the sense is of carrying something: “the boat was borne along on the raging waters” shows the past tense of the verb ‘bear’.

According to Macquarie Dictionary, Born and borne were once alternative spellings, but current practice is to use born when referring to birth (where was she born?) and borne in other cases (she’s borne the burden very cheerfully).


All four words are derived from the verb to cow: to frighten with threats, etc.; intimidate.

Cowed is to have been intimidated so you can’t stand up for yourself. Hence coward, someone who is afraid. I’m assuming ‘cowerd’ is a mis-spelling of coward, but the poster may have meant ‘cowed’.

Cowed has nothing at all to do with cows, although an angry bull might make cowards of us all. According to the ever-helpful Macquarie Dictionary, it’s probably from Old Norse kūga cow, tyrannise over.

The Joker in the pack: cowtailed.

I have never seen or heard this word before, but there it was in a comment posted under an opinion piece. From the rest of the comment, I’m guessing the poster was spelling ‘curtailed’ phonetically. However, as ‘cowtailed’ fits so well with the rest of the cow derivations, I think it’s worth celebrating!



These three homophones and homonyms (same spelling, different meaning) are very easy to confuse, especially when typing in a hurry. Lead1 is the verb ‘to lead’, OR the noun ‘lead’ or leash.

Lead2 is the heavy metal, rhyming with led, the past tense of Lead1

!REMEMBER: Sorry, there is no easy mnemonic to help you sort them out. Hopefully the sentence construction will lead you to the correct meaning.


Refresh your memory of other misleading homophones here.


You can find helpful pointers on the use of grammar and punctuation in the Commonwealth of Australia Style Manual, and Mark Tredinnick’s Little Green Grammar Book. The Macquarie Dictionary is a great resource for spelling and definitions of Australian words and phrases, including slang.


Until next time,



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