Not So Discreet About Being Discrete

When I was in the 1st grade, we learned that homonyms are “words that sound the same but are spelled differently.”

Whenever I read a poorly edited post or book, invariably one of the errors that jumps out at me is misused homonyms.  Most recently, an author wanted the character to “grow a pare,” which makes no sense since “pare” is a verb.  The author may have wanted the character to act with conviction and “grow a pair,” or, if the character were a gardener, possibly “grow a pear.”

A less amusing homonym error involves the use of “discreet,” which involves acting without causing offense, and “discrete,” which we learned in middle school algebra refers to integers and the like.  “Discrete” refers to units that are separate and unique.  Very seldom does a writer actually need to use “discrete,” but I see this error with surprising regularity, most recently on a document at work.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a discreet way to identify this mistake to the document’s creator, so I just edited it and hoped no one would notice the correction.

Are there any homonym mix-ups that catch your attention, or are you guilty of mixing up your (or is it “you’re”?!) “there,” “their,” and “they’re”?

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