Heir vs err

Heir  and err are commonly confused words that are pronounced in the same way but are spelled differently and have different meanings, which makes them homophones. Homophones are a group of words with different spellings, the same pronunciations, and different meanings. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language and are a challenge for those who wish to learn to speak English. It can be difficult to learn how to spell different words that sound the same, and homophones are commonly misused words. Said aloud, the difference is less important, because the words are pronounced the same. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing even to native English speakers when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Proper pronunciation of spoken English may help the listener distinguish between homophones and understand the correct spelling; the words affect-effect are a good example, but the word pairs to, too and two, bridle and bridal, creek and creak, hoard and horde, toed and towed, or horse and hoarse, are indistinguishable from each other and are easily confused and are commonly misused. Pronunciation is usually more ambiguous, as English pronunciation may vary according to dialect, and English spelling is constantly evolving. Pronunciation may change even though the spelling doesn’t, producing two words that are pronounced in the same manner but have different meanings such as night and knight. Phonological spelling and spelling rules do not always work, and most people avoid misspelling by studying vocabulary words from spelling lists, enhancing their literacy skills through spelling practice, and learning words in English by studying a dictionary of the English language. English words are also spelled according to their etymologies rather than their sound. For instance, the word threw is derived from the Old English word thrawan, and the word through came from the Old English word thurh. Homophones are confusing words and are commonly misspelled words because of the confusion that arises from words that are pronounced alike but have very different usage and etymology. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a homophone in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Homophones are often used in wordplay like puns. We will examine the different meanings of the homophonic words heir and err, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

An heir is someone legally entitled to property or a title upon a certain person’s demise. Heir may also be used figuratively to refer to someone who carries on a the tradition or legacy of a predecessor. The h in heir is not pronounced; the word is derived from the Old French word, oir, which means successor or heritage.

Err means to make a mistake, to commit an error, to miscalculate, to go against accepted standards, or to do something wrong or frowned upon. Related words are errs, erred, erring. The word err is derived from the Old English word, ierre, which means straying.


Fashion heir Paola Fendi married Aram Ahmed over the weekend in an elegant ceremony in Ibiza. (New York Post)

Osaka is the obvious heir to Williams, but that will mean she has to start playing in tournaments. (Globe and Mail)

Err on the side of caution and seek emergency care if there is reason to believe they are experiencing something other than a seizure. (Medical News Today)

Thoughtful of you to honor FDNY Bravest but you seemed to err in both the description and name of the gallant Lt. Michael J. Conboy, Rescue Company 3, who received the Dr. Harry M. Archer Medal for Valor. (New York Daily News)

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