Thursday, May 10

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, May 10, 2012 8 comments
In response to a comment on my post "Funky Favorites and How to Spell Them," I'm going to be regularly featuring a pair or group of homophones to help you get better mastery over when to use which terms.

Mastering homophones is a lot like learning to tell fraternal twins apart. You know Jody and Judy aren't identical--each has a slightly different height and build. But until you know each girl as an individual, you're going to continue getting confused. It's a lot less helpful to know Judy is "the tall one," because you won't know who's who when one girl is alone. Better to learn that Judy has hazel eyes and straight, brown hair, runs hurdles in track and loves to crack jokes, while Jody has brown eyes and wavy, caramel hair, plays flute in the band and is more likely to read than speak up.

So, onto our fraternal twins, phase and faze. I picked this pair because a CP recently caught me using the wrong one in my manuscript. We'll start with a definition, then discuss usage.

phase (n) a particular appearance or state in a regularly recurring cycle of change; a distinguishable part in a course, development, or cycle.

(There are a few additional definitions for less common, technical uses of the term here.)

phase (v, transitive)  to adjust so as to be in a synchronized condition;  to conduct or carry out by planned phases; to introduce in stages —usually used with in.

As a noun
The moon phase is waxing gibbous.
I know Shane has been awfully cranky, but it's just a phase. He'll get taller soon, too.
In this phase of my career, I'm making a lot of valuable connections.

As a verb
We phased the start times so the group would arrive at 10 a.m.
Ted would prefer to phase in the new procedure.

The key characteristics of phase are its relation to TIME, to PROCESSES and to PLANS.

faze (v, transitive) to disturb the composure of : disconcert, daunt.

Most people would be terrified to go into that pit of snakes, but Troy wasn't fazed.
Maddie's short skirt seemed to faze the judges.

The key characteristics of faze are it is ONLY A VERB, and it has to do with DISCOMFORT, or LOSING ONE'S COOL.

Do these distinctions help? What are some other homophones that confuse you?


  1. The two that trip me up are "passed" and "past." Even though I know the difference, I find myself stymied as I write and I look them up, just to be sure.

    1. I can certainly add that one to the list. Personally, I always have to look up affect and effect. ALWAYS. The term 'affect' comes up a lot in literary criticism, and it's a kind of technical usage to boot.

  2. I'm just gonna have fun with these:

    "Nothing fazes her at this phase of her career."

  3. I like your new blog template, and I definitely have words that trouble me . . .not always homonyms unfortunately .. . just words that I think I know from context, then I used them and find out I don't know them that well. I've been checking my dictionary more often.

    Your directions on phase, phase, and faze were great!

    1. Thanks, Tyrean. I know what you mean about contextual learning of some vocabulary. Sometimes a meaning can change a bit from context to context--or fit in one and not another. Growing a vocabulary is a life-long learning experience, and trial and error is part of that.

  4. These two aren't bad for me, but I saw up in the comments you said something about "affect" and "effect"- that trips me up occasionally.

  5. Yeah, I may tackle that one eventually. I haven't yet found a good mnemonic device to keep them straight. I'll keep an ear to the ground, though.