Tern vs. Turn

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Tern and turn are two words that are pronounced in the same fashion but are spelled differently and have different meanings, which make them homophones. We will look at the definitions of tern and turn, where these words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A tern is a type of seabird, related to gulls. A tern has a forked tail and usually eats seafood, though some species of tern may eat insects and even small land vertebrates. The word tern is derived from the Old Norse word þerna, which means tern and also maid-servant.

A turn is 1.) the act of changing direction in a semi-circular or right-angle direction 2.) to change direction in a semi-circular or right-angle direction 3.) an opportunity that is presented successively to a group of people, such as when playing a game 4.) a change 5.) to point something in a different direction. The word turn may be used as a noun or a verb, related words are turns, turned, turning. The word turn is derived from the Old English word turnian, which means to rotate.


Walking into the midst of the nesting area of the Arctic Tern has its dangers, as the bird is extremely protective of their young and attack anyone approaching them by trying to peck them in the head with their pointy beaks.   (The Iceland Monitor)

She was heading south, she said, and had to slow significantly for a car ahead that had slowed and was signaling a left turn onto either the Clare or Callahan off-ramps intended for traffic headed in the other direction. (The Kitsap Sun)

Herbivorous pests often turn on each other when their food is of poor quality or it runs out. (Scientific American)

Sit at one of the picnic tables for a family brunch, or take your turn wading in the water digging for treasures amongst the pebbles and rocks. (The Digby County Courier)

Enjoyed reading about these homophones? Check out some others we covered: