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10 Word Pairs Whose Meanings Change Drastically With Just One Letter

Leena Ghosh Leena Ghosh 6 Mins Read

Leena Ghosh Leena Ghosh


It takes time for a child to get pronunciation and spelling right. Here's a list of some words that primary schoolers usually misspell, changing the sense of what they mean to say.

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10 Word Pairs Whose Meanings Change Drastically With Just One Letter

According to George Bernard Shaw, "English is the easiest language to speak badly." We can add to this quote by saying that misspelling some words of the English language also comes very easily to a lot of us, especially children. For, there are many words in English that sound similar but are spelled differently. Spelling such words correctly can be quite tricky for children, and even adults.

For example, a commonly confused word pair is 'lose' - 'loose'. Although the words sound similar, their meanings are very different.

Here's a list of 10-word pairs that you can share with your primary schooler. Although the words in each pair are pronounced the same way, they are spelled differently.

10 word pairs whose meanings change with just one letter

1. Ball, bawl 

Teacher: "Write a sentence about your favorite toy."

Child: "I love to play with my yellow bawl and kick it around the field."

How to explain: Teach your child that while 'ball' refers to a plaything, 'bawl' means to cry loudly.

2. Bare, bear 

Parent: "Write the name of an animal you can find in the Arctic circle."

Child: "You can find a polar bare in the Arctic circle."

How to explain: This is one of the most confusing word pairs. Teach your child that 'bare', which includes an 'a' in its spelling, means uncovered. However, 'bear', which is spelled with an 'e', represents an animal.

3. Bean, been

Teacher: "Write the name of a vegetable that's high in protein."

Child: "Beens. I love eating beens."

How to explain: Show your child how replacing the letter 'a' with 'e' drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. While 'bean' is an edible kidney-shaped seed, 'been' denotes a sense of time (it is the past participle of 'be').

4. Berth, birth 

A sign at the railway station: "Please reserve a birth in advance."

How to explain: Tell your child that 'berth' with an 'e' means a place to sleep on a train and 'birth' with an 'i' means a baby being born or the time a baby is born.

5. Hair, hare 

One of the sentences a child wrote in a story-writing competition was: 'The white hair ran across the field because it feared the fox'.

How to explain: This is another word pair that your child might find confusing. Tell him, if the word ends with 're' it means an animal, but if it ends with 'ir', it denotes strands that grow on the head and body of humans and some animals.

6. Pear, pair 

Teacher: "What fruit do you like?"

Child: "I love to eat pairs."

How to explain: Teach your child that pear means a fruit while 'pair', which has an 'i', means something that comes in twos.

7. Idle, idol 

A child once wrote, 'The former President of India, Abdul Kalam, is my idle and I want to be a scientist like him'.

How to explain: Explain to your child that the word 'idol' has an 'o' and is a noun. It is used to describe someone who is a role model. But, 'idle' is an adjective used to describe a person.

8. Pale, pail 

Son to father in a text message: "Hi Dad, I need a pale of sand for my school project."

How to explain: Clear the confusion for your child by telling him that the word 'pail' is a noun and means a bucket, while 'pale' is used to describe the complexion of skin or light shade of a color.

9. Not, knot 

Student writing a leave letter: 'Dear Ma'am, please excuse my absence from class yesterday, as I was knot feeling well'. 

How to explain: Adding the letter 'k' to 'not' has changed the meaning of the sentence. Tell your child that a 'knot' signifies a tangle of threads or a lump and 'not' is a 'negative adverb'.

10. Hour, our 

Child to father in a text: 'Google map says the picnic location is just an our away'.

How to explain: Like the example above, adding the letter 'h' to 'our' has changed its meaning. Teach your child that an 'hour' is a unit of time (60 minutes) while 'our' is a pronoun.

To help your child understand these words better, here are some activities you can do with her.

Activities for your child

Write right: Either you and your child can play this game or you can involve your entire family. First, write 15 or 20 letters of the alphabet on different pieces of paper. Then, fold the pieces and put them in a bowl. Ask each member to pick one piece of paper and write two similar-sounding words starting with the letter written on their slip. Whoever finishes first, wins!

Fill in the blanks: One of the most interesting word games to play is Pictionary. Tell your child beforehand that all the words should be similar sounding words. On a piece of paper, spell the words but leave out a few letters. For example, for flour/flower, just give out the first and the last letter (F and R) and let him guess the rest of them. Describe the words by drawing or miming and have a fun time playing with words.

Read and find: This activity will need a little planning, but once you have all the props in place, it will make your child feel good about her vocabulary skills. Write five words on a sheet of paper. In a box, put the pictures of objects that match the pronunciation of each word. For example, write the word 'son' and put the picture of the sun in the box. Ask your child to find the picture which matches the pronunciation of the word on the list and paste it next to the word. This activity will encourage her to think and test her spelling skills as well.

Hunt the word: Which child doesn't like a bit of a treasure hunt? Only this time, words would be the treasure your child would need to find. If you can arrange for a pirate hat before you play this game, it will make this activity even more exciting. Write different words on pieces of cardboard and hide them around the room. Make sure there aren't too many words or the 'hunting ground' isn't too big. Also, tell your child the number of words he should find, so he doesn't keep searching. After he finds all the words, ask him to collect his 'treasure' in one place and match the similar-sounding words. When he completes this task, give him a little treat as a pirate reward!

Solve the riddle: This game requires a little more effort, both from you and your child. Write a set of riddles for her to solve. Keep your child's age and vocabulary skills in mind while you frame the riddles. Tell her the theme of the riddles before you ask her to solve them. Give her a treat for each correct answer. If she doesn't understand the concept, you can answer some of the riddles first and then ask her to come up with answers for the rest. To make the game more fun, involve the whole family in it.

Here's an example of a riddle:

What do you say when two pears come together?

Ans: A pair of pears.

What do you call a naked bear?

Ans: A bare bear!

Not only will your child have fun playing these word-based games but also will improve his English language skills.

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