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Which witch is which?

Which witch is which challenges you on homophones.

English has many 'accidental groups' of words that sound alike and may cause confusion (or give rise to Puns, good or less good!). How sharp are you at picking out the similar-sounding ones and recognising their meanings?

  1. Which of these contains a mis-spelling of the common word?
    Although 'plain' as in Answer 3 is a flat formation, the tool used by joiners to achieve a similar smooth effect is a Plane (this word means a flat surface in geometry, hence the more-or-less flat wing surfaces of an aircraft, e.g. the tail-planes, and indeed also the hydroplanes of a submarine which do a somewhat comparable job).
    Metaphorically we also sometimes refer to something being 'on a higher plane', e.g. that Calculus is rather 'above' most people whose Maths only reached about GCSE standard.
    'Plane' (spelt thus) is also the name of the species of tree fairly widely seen in London and other city streets.
  2. Which of the four similar-sounding words here is NOT a noun?
    Yes: little old 'or' is a conjunction; the rest are all nouns.
  3. In which of these sentences is the like-sounding word an Adverb?
    'Right' can also be a noun (as in 'human rights') and an adjective ('the right hand'), even a verb ('you need to right a capsized vessel as soon as possible'); but here it is an adverb, describing the manner of doing an action.
  4. In which of these sentences is the similar-sounding word NOT a verb?
    'Sore' is an adjective, used here metaphorically of course.
    'Saw' in Answer 1 is the plain past form of 'see', but in Answer 2 it is the present form of 'to saw' ( = to cut with a saw, as a carpenter would do).
    'Soaring' (Answer 4) sounds practically identical but is in no sense related to any of the previous words.
  5. In only ONE of these sentences, the apparent 'echo pair' does not work correctly: which one?
    There is (so far as we know) no such thing as a 'lert' (Answer 4); so this is one of those rather silly puns that ought to work, but the joke ~ such as it is ~ is that it doesn't.
  6. In which of these sentences is the word that LOOKS as though it should sound like others, actually pronounced differently?
    'Rowed' in Answer 1 is the past form of the verb 'to row' (i.e. to propel a boat, using oars ~ see Q.2 A.4 above!); in Answer 3 it is the past form of 'to row' as in 'to make an embarrassing and noisy fuss about something' (here, it rhymes with 'how').
    Your author was once somewhat disconcerted to attend a happy wedding where one set of seats was marked with a sign, 'FAMILY ROW'. Obviously in this context it referred to a 'row' of seats side-by-side (rhymes with 'no'), rather than indicating a major argument 'to rhyme with 'now'), despite the identical spelling.
    The chicken joke (in Answer 4), and numerous variations, is a standard English verbal institution. The pun here is on the American placename, Rhode Island (sounding like a 'road island', i.e. a little raised refuge halfway across a main street, where pedestrians crossing can pause before tackling the second stream of traffic).
  7. In which of these sentences is the word that LOOKS as though it should sound like others, actually pronounced differently?
    The 'lead' (or sometimes 'leash'), along with the present form of its related verb, is pronounced with a long E; all the others are short, despite the '-ea-' spelling in the chemical element Lead (= 'Pb' to chemists, from the same Latin root that we have Plumber, originally someone who worked with water-piping that was made of lead. There are British-made water-pipes in the ruins of Herculaneum, apparently ... how about that for an example of the European market under the Romans, 2,000-odd years ago?)
  8. In ONE of the following sentences, the similar-sounding words have been written in each other's place by mistake: which one?
    In Answer 2, 'weight' and 'wait' are reversed.
    In Answer 4 there is the further echo of a rather poor pun on 'a frayed knot' (i.e. one in which the ropes themselves are worn and 'frayed', making it even harder to untie cleanly or quickly).
  9. In only ONE of the following sentences is the pun-word a Noun: which one?
    'Need' can certainly be a noun as well as a verb ('A friend in need is a friend indeed' ... or, as some cynic once commented, viewing the friendship from its other end and a rather less charitable perspective, 'A friend in need is a ~-ing nuisance'.)
    Meanwhile 'knee' is usually a noun, but there is a verb 'to knee', and that's what is called for in Answer 3. One almost feels it should have a third 'e' in it, but two are enough (cf. 'freed, agreed' etc.).
  10. All but ONE of the punning pairs (or groups) here work acceptably in English: which is the weak or mis-handled example?
    'Scene' and 'seen' are reversed in Answer 1. A good poet would (or should) certainly think twice before writing anything as weak as:
    'It was a calm and tranquil scene. / The prettiest I'd ever seen.'
    (That somehow goes beyond the idea of rhyme and comes out the far side, not having satisfied!)
    We hope you will have been making good use of a substantial dictionary to disentangle any other rare, unfamiliar or otherwise potentially troublesome usages. And please don't now get us started on 'red' and 'read' (in its past tense/sense)!

Author: Ian Miles

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