11 Sound-Alike Business Words You Might Be Spelling Wrong

You may know how to say these common business words, but do you know how they’re supposed to be spelled?

Continuing on with our lively conversations about grammar and spelling, I’ve been compiling a few lists.

Today, I offer these eleven sets of homophones that I see misused or misspelled in resumes, cover letters and business correspondence.

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, which is why they’re commonly confused.

See if you know the correct choice for these sets of words.

(Did you miss earlier articles in this series? Check out 7 Spelling and Grammar Errors that Make You Look Dumb.)


1. Cite / Site / Sight

Cite is a verb meaning give credit to, as in citing your sources. It’s also what the cop does when you get pulled over for speeding and handed a summons to court, which is a citation. This one is easy if you notice that credit, cop, court and citation all start with “c.”

A site is a place, like a campsite or a web site. Site can also be a verb meaning putting something into place, like siting your new house. One friend remembers this because a web site sits on a server.

A sight is something you can see or observe. When you travel, you see the sights (yes, that’s confusing if you go see battle sites, so you’re technically seeing the site sights).

Let’s go sightseeing to those ancient sites and hope we aren’t cited for trespassing.

2.  Accept / Except

Accept means to take or receive something, like accepting an Academy Award. Note the a‘s in these words.

Except means excluding, so look for the word that also starts with ‘ex‘ on this one.

My boss won’t accept a call from anyone except our attorney today.

3. Forward / Foreword

Forward is a direction toward a place, point or time. It’s the opposite of backward.

A foreword is a short section written at the beginning of a book. It’s easy to remember, because it has the word “word” in it.

The foreword of the book named their work the most forward-thinking business innovation in years.

4. Everyday / Every day

Everyday is an adjective to describe commonplace things or things we use daily as in “my everyday commute route.”

When you are talking about doing something every day, use two separate words. One way to remember is to leave space to insert for  the word “single” for emphasis, as in “every single day.”

Every day I remind my children that keeping a clean desk is an everyday habit worth creating.

5.  Principal / Principle

Principal means highest-ranking or most important, as in the main actor in the play, the head of the school or the main amount of your mortgage loan. One trick I learned in school was to remember that “the principal is your pal.”

Principle is a fundamental truth or rule; the tip to remember this is that the word “rule” also ends with “le.”

The principles of accounting tell us to create separate accounts for payments we make to the loan principal and the loan interest.

6.  Stationary / Stationery

Stationery is paper used for writing. It may be helpful to know that in years past, the merchant who sold books and papers was the stationer, selling stationery.

Stationary means standing absolutely still or unchanging, with nary a move, like a stationary exercise bike, or plane at the gate.

I used stationery from the hotel to write a note to let the gym manager know the stationary bike was broken.

7.  Threw / Through

Threw is the past tense of throw.

Through is for when you’re talking about going in and out of something, like through the tunnel, or working through dinner.

I had to go through a dumpster full of recycling to find the file I accidentally threw out.

8.  Copyright / Copywriter

A copyright is literally the right to copy or license a literary, musical or creative work.

A copywriter is someone who writes copy, usually for advertising or publicity.

The copywriter works on projects for many clients, and rarely owns the copyright on their creation.

9.  Peak / Peek / Pique / Peaked

A peak is a summit or high point.

A surreptitious look is a peek; see how the double “e” in the word “peek” looks like two eyes sneaking a peek?

From the French for prick or sting, pique can be a verb meaning to wound or irritate, or a noun meaning the feeling of resentment or irritation.

And to confuse things further, there is the word peaked, which is pronounced in two syllables, which means tired and drawn.

It piqued me to be excluded from the planning meeting, but my interest was piqued when I peeked around the corner and saw a chart about peak performance awards with my name at the top. I must have looked bad because my coworker said, “Is something wrong? You look peaked.”

10.  Past / Passed

Past refers to time before the current time, such as “in the past” or “past president.” The way to remember is that “time” is a four-letter word, and so is “past.”

Past can also refer to space, such as when you give directions to “drive past the airport exit.”

Passed is the past tense of the word “to pass,” as in “we missed the exit and accidentally passed the airport.”

Once it made it past the recruiter, Jarod’s resume was passed on to the hiring manager, who read it carefully to understand his past position. Unfortunately, the date for submission had passed.

11.  Used to / Use to and Supposed to / Suppose to

This confusion with these is the result of poor enunciation and fast speech so that people who’ve never seen the words written apparently think the phrase is “use to” or “suppose to.”

Say it how you will (though you will sound odd if you enunciate too clearly), but spell it with the “d.”

I used to think that all successful entrepreneurs were supposed to work 80 hours a week.

Obviously, with the unpredictability and variety of English, this is not a complete list. Can you think of any more homonyms you see people confuse when they write?

Thanks to Leslie Ayres