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Your Spellchecker is Not Your BFF!

alphabet Aalphabet ZWhat did we ever do before spell checkers? Well, for one thing, we learned how to spell! And no matter what our job, we always had a dictionary right beside the typewriter. Typewriter?? Never mind, that’s an ancient history machine.

Yes, spell checkers are wonderful inventions and we can’t live without them. Nowadays there’s no excuse whatsoever for a blatantly misspelled word. I don’t know about you, but if I see one in an article, blog post, comment, or whatever, I don’t trust anything that person has to say. If you’re too sloppy and careless to check your spelling, you’re probably too sloppy and careless to make sure you’ve done sufficient research to verify and back up what you’re saying.

But spell checkers only catch misspelled words. Period. They don’t catch errors of tense. For instance, in my immediately preceding paragraph, what if I’d typed excused instead of excuse? What if I’d typed checked instead of check? My spell checker wouldn’t have caught either of those mistakes because excused and checked are legitimate and perfectly spelled words. So while spell checking is crucial, it’s only the first step. You’ve got to proofread too!

Actually, the spell checker problem is much worse than you think. We’ve got to talk about homophones. Say what????


Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things. They’re hugely troublesome because a spell checker won’t catch the mistake if you use the wrong word but spell it correctly.

One of the most often seen homophonic mistakes is its vs. it’s.

its - belonging to something (The table gets its shine from lemon oil.)
it’s - the contraction of it is or it has (It’s a beautiful day, it’s been like this for the past week, and it’s supposed to stay that way until Saturday.)

Another one is there vs. their vs. they’re.

there - not here (The book is on the chair over there.)
their - belonging to them (It’s their book, not mine.)
they’re - contraction of they are (They’re going to get it later.)

Putting all three together into one sentence: Tom and Mary will be there tomorrow and they’re bringing folding chairs since it’s their turn to provide the seating.

How about to vs. two vs. too?

to - not from (Are you going to the conference tomorrow?)
two - between one and three (There are only two solutions.)
too - also (In addition to English, he’ll need to study Spanish too.)

Putting all three together into one sentence: I’m going to the store to get two bottles of milk and Susan is coming too.

And then there’s my old nemesis desert vs. dessert that I’ve already told you about.

For a full list of homophones, click here.

There’s more to this story, even though it has nothing to do with spell checkers. There are two other categories of troublesome words.


Homographs are words that are spelled the same but sound different and have different meanings. Two examples:

to take charge of (Ms. Smith will lead the orchestra today.)
a metal (This little lead ball weighs 25 pounds.)

female pig (The sow had a litter of eight piglets.)
to plant seeds (Farmer Jones is going to sow his wheat this week.)

For a full list of homographs, click here.


Some people use the catch-all word homonym to refer to both homophones and homographs. Technically this is incorrect because true homonyms are words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same, but have different meanings. Two examples:

an upper body part (My arm hurts.)
a weapon or to make use of a weapon (I’m going to arm myself before hiking in the woods.)

a movie, play, etc. (The show starts at 8:00 p.m.)
to demonstrate something (Please show me how to fix this broken bike.)

For a full list of true homonyms, click here.

Sorry for the information blitz, but this stuff is important. Even if you’re not a professional writer, you still write emails and texts and probably a bunch of other stuff. Please use your spell checker. Please proofread. Please use correct words. You’ll be glad you did and you won’t sound like a jerk to your readers!



Kitty Price

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