Can You Make Sound Choices Between Sound-Alike Words?

By Rob Kyff

October 23, 2019 4 min read

Some usage distinctions are so tricky that even very intelligent people find them challenging. OK, smarty-pants, see whether you can choose the correct word in each sentence. (Look for a misdirection clue in each item.)

1. I will (forbear, forebear) from commenting on the unscrupulous behavior of your ancestor, Joseph "Stinky" Crawford.

2. Realizing that a proliferation of kittens might eventually be in the cards, we decided to have our adorable cat Blinky (spayed, spade).

3. The lingering odor of Flaffenhuffer sauce (reeked, wreaked) havoc with our elegant brunch.

4. I'm (adverse, averse) to traveling during inclement weather.

5. Winky is a rebellious showoff who (flaunts, flouts) conventional norms.

6. The insult Hinky threw at the stand-up comedian didn't (jibe, gibe) with the friendly atmosphere of the club.

7. After putting maple syrup on her pancakes, Pinky carefully (poured, pored) over the writer's manuscript.

8. Tinky casually (rifled, riffled) the pages of the hunting magazine.

9. When Minky assumed the (mantel, mantle) of volleyball team captain, she placed a photo of the squad above her fireplace.

10. Rather than argue with his boss about being paid so little, the clever cowboy cleverly (wrangled, wangled) a raise from him.


1. "Forbear" means to refrain. "Forebear" refers to an ancestor.

2. "Spay" (past tense "spayed") means to surgically neuter a female animal. "Spade" refers to a digging instrument or to a suit in a deck of playing cards.

3. "Reek" means to emanate an offensive odor. "Wreak" means to inflict, to bring about, e.g., "wreak havoc."

4. "Averse" means opposed to, repulsed by. "Adverse" means unfavorable, harmful, e.g., "adverse weather conditions."

5. "Flout" means to defy, show contempt for. "Flaunt" means to show off.

6. "Jibe" means to be consistent with, align. "Gibe" means to taunt, deride.

7. "Pore" means to examine something closely. "Pour" means to tip something out of a container.

8. "Riffle" means to thumb lightly through papers or pages. "Rifle" means to ransack through items, usually with the intent to steal.

9. "Mantle" means a sleeveless, capelike garment and, by extension, a quality attributed to someone who has assumed responsibility or leadership. A "mantel" is a shelf above a fireplace.

10. "Wangle" means to accomplish or obtain something in a clever way. "Wrangle" means to engage in argument or controversy or to herd and care for horses or other animals. The movie "The Birds," for instance, employed a "bird wrangler."

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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