Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Grammar Goblins by Fran Hodgkins

Besides writing, I do a lot of manuscript editing. Recently, I've run across many instances of one particular group of goblins: misused homophones. These words sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meaning. They can be sneaky.And that’s what makes them goblins.


You’re probably familiar with two sets of familiar goblins: to/too/two and their/there/they’re. They’ve been addressed in other places and I won’t be reviewing them here. Instead, I’m shining a light on some homophone goblins are more elusive.


Pour and pore. Pour is what you do to orange juice, and a pore is a tiny hole in your skin. And this is where the goblin strikes: there’s actually another pore — a verb that means to study closely. When you’re reviewing stacks of papers, you’re poring over them. And yes – pore as in study closely always travels with the word over.


Flare and flair. This pair also makes trouble. When you dress with style, you have flair. When something bursts into flame, it flares up. Horses’ nostrils flare when they run. Bell-bottom jeans flare at the ends of the legs. If you’re in trouble on a boat, you set off a flare (which, in turn, flares brightly). And a brand of felt-tip pen is a Flair.


Flaunt and flout. When someone shows off their fat wallet, they are flaunting their wealth.  They’re showing off. Although they’re being annoying, there’s no law against it. However, if there was a law against showing off and they defied it, they’d be flouting that law—flouting the anti-flaunting law. Hm, I may be getting a bit carried away.


Assure, ensure, and insure.  This tricky trio confuses many people – mostly because they may have heard of two out of the three. Let’s start with insure: that means to take out an insurance policy to protect something against loss. Ensure means that you’re making sure of something; for example, you fill your gas tank before a trip to ensure that you don’t run out of gas. And assure? That’s when you tell someone that something is true or is definitely happening.


Loose and lose. Two o’s or one? That makes a difference. Lose is a verb (“I might lose my polar bear in the snow”). Loose is an adjective – such as in “a loose end” or “My polar bear is on the loose.”


So, why worry about the goblins? Will they stop an editor from buying your work? Every editor is different; some are more forgiving than others. But remember: you’re worked hard on your words. You deserve to give your work the best chance possible.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. We sure don't want a Grammar Goblin to gobble up our hard work. TY, Fran for highlighting some of these scary goblins! YIKES

  3. Love these pointers, Fran! Thanks for the fun and helpful post!!! My favorite is insure/ensure/assure—so often misused and confused!

  4. Great post, Fran. Grammar Goblins! They will trip up even the best of us - especially when we're typing fast and don't doublecheck to make sure it's the correct homophone.

  5. A good reminder! Thank you, Fran!