English can be fun and complicated

May 03, 2012|Lisa Prejean

I was recently asked how to spell a word that is often used to mean twists and turns in a road.

"W-I-N-D-Y," I said, pleased to be of help.

I heard a "Really?" quietly muttered, and I realized why.

English is a strange language. Two different words can be spelled the same way, but pronounced differently and have different meanings.

I can drive my car along the curves of a windy (wine dee) road, and I can lose my hat on a windy (win dee) day.

These words with identical spellings are called homographs. Sometimes words have the same spelling, the same pronunciation but a different meaning. Those words are called homonyms.

When I explained that, the only response was a shake of the head. "No wonder people don't know how to spell."

The next question was "How do you know which pronunciation to use?"

By looking at the context, most readers can figure it out, I explained.

Sometimes we have to back up in a passage to get the pronunciations correct, but that's OK because this is a learning process.

See how you do with the following words. Try reading the sentences aloud, if you are in a place where you are allowed to do that. (Aloud and allowed are homophones. They share the same pronunciation.)

 "I will address my captain with respect," the private said as he wrote his address in a letter to his mother.

 The bass drum will scare the fish out of the river if you play it too close to the water. The bass fish certainly don't like the sound.

 I will combine my lima beans and corn. The farmer was using his combine today.

 As I dove into the swimming pool, I noticed a dove flying by.

 Will you excuse me while I write my daughter's excuse note?

 Our seniors will graduate this month. I can't believe Bob will be a graduate.

 Did you go to the job fair? Job's friends were not patience with him or his circumstances.

 The pitcher had a perfect game. He knew he had to perfect his curve ball.

 Have you read the "Chronicles of Narnia?" I will read the books this summer.

 No, don't subject yourself to his criticism, she said. Change the subject if he starts to make you feel uncomfortable.

 The injured soccer player didn't shed a tear. Will you be able to tear yourself away from the game?

Yes, English can be complicated, but at the same time, it can be a lot of fun.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

The Herald-Mail Articles