Coups vs. Coos

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Coups and coos are two commonly confused words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and mean different things, which makes them homophones. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language, and are a challenge for those who wish to learn to speak English. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Proper pronunciation of spoken English may help the listener distinguish between homophones; the words affect-effect are a good example, but the words to, too and two, or horse and hoarse, are indistinguishable from each other. 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, and enhancing their literacy skills through spelling practice. 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, 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. We will examine the definitions of the two homophonic words coups and coos, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Coups is the plural form of coup, which is a sudden, violent overthrow of a government. The term coup may also mean a sudden, brilliant success. The word coup is an abbreviation of the term coup d’état which is a sudden overthrow of a government. Usually, a coup d’état is a violent, illegal seizure of power. A coup d’état may involve the military, or it may be a civilian force. A coup d’état is not simply a revolution instigated by an unhappy populace, it is a calculated power grab by a political faction. The word coup is taken from Old French, where it means a strike or a blow against something or someone.

Coos is the plural form of coo, the soft sound that a bird makes, and is often said of the sound a dove makes. Coo may also describe a soft, murmuring sound that a person makes. Coos is used as a noun or a verb, related words are coo, cooed, cooing. Coos is an onomatopoeia, which is a word that is formed by imitating the sound of the thing or action being described.


He’s had many successful coups but perhaps his greatest feat came at Roscommon in 2016, where he sent out three different horses to win at overnight odds of 16-1, 12-1 and 14-1. (The Sun)

Thailand’s military has orchestrated more than a dozen successful coups, the latest in 2014, and has ruled the country through a junta since then. (The New York Times)

The coos, flights and sights of the mourning doves have been an important part of our life for years.  (The Martinsville Bulletin)

A mourning dove coos from a nearby hill while a flock of juncos twitter along the roadside.  (The Pine Journal)

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