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How To Use "Sight," "Cite," & "Site"

Today, I'm going to explain how to use three common homophones: sight, cite, and site. These words are often confused with each other, and they are made more tricky by the fact that both sight and site have both noun and verb meanings (cite is only a verb). However, distinguishing among them is not too hard as long as you remember that sight is always related to vision (think of the word "see"), cite is related to the word "citation," and site is related to the word "situate" (as in "put in place").

As a special bonus, I've also included an explanation of the similar-looking words insight and incite.

Cite ("to refer to someone") vs. Sight ("act or process of seeing") vs. Site ("specific location")

Sight (Think "See")

The spelling sight with a "gh" is related to vision; it comes from the word "see." You've undoubtedly used this word numerous times, but let's review a few of its meanings. It can refer to something notable that is being seen or could be seen (as in what a sight). It can also refer to the act or process of seeing (as in sense of sight) or to perception more generally (as in foresight). Those uses are all nouns; less commonly, it is also a verb meaning "to get a glimpse of." I've provided example sentences for each of these uses below.

The sight of the building on fire caused many of the employees to burst into tears. Most cats have phenomenal sight, especially in the dark. The psychic claimed to have "second sight" that allowed her to see the future. Birdwatchers compete to sight as many different species as possible during a calendar year.

The verb usage of sight may be fairly rare, but it is the source of much of the confusion regarding this word and its homophones. Just remember that, if you are talking about seeing something, you need use the spelling with the silent "g."

Cite (Think "Citation")

The spelling cite is based on the word "citation," and—unlike its homophones—it is always a verb. This word has a few related meanings. Perhaps most commonly, it is used to mean "to refer to or name someone as an authority"; if you've ever written an academic paper, then you've almost certainly had to cite sources to support your claims. More generally, you can also use cite to mean "to call attention to" or "to give as an example; for instance, one might cite the Grand Canyon as one of the country's natural wonders.

The other main use of cite has to do with the a different meaning of "citation"; in legal contexts, a "citation" is a summons to appear (e.g., in court), often as a result of a traffic violation). In this sense, cite means "to summon to appear." Here are a few examples of the various uses of cite, with the last one showcasing the legal meaning:

Be sure to cite all the sources that you consult in your research so as to prevent plagiarism. When asked about his favorite TV shows, Mark cited "The Simpsons" and "The Sopranos." The trooper cited Allison for driving recklessly; in court, the judge ordered her to pay $500.

Remember to use the spelling that starts with "c" to support a claim, call attention to something, or refer to a court summons.

Site (Think "Situate")

Finally, we have the spelling site, which comes from the word "situate" (meaning "put into place"). This word refers generally to a specific location where something will occur. In recent decades, it has been extended to refer to virtual sites—including, most commonly, websites. In this newer meaning, site is often used as a shorthand for "website."

In addition, site is occasionally used a verb that means "to place in a location" or "to determine the future location of something"; for instance, you might site your garden in a part of your yard that gets plenty of sunlight. Here are example sentences for each of the meanings of site, with the verb usage last:

The sign proclaimed that the empty lot was the future site of a city park. Please visit my site to view my portfolio and curriculum vitae. Based on her analysis of the landscape, Ina sited the best route for the new bike path.

To keep this spelling straight, remember that it starts with "sit" and that it relates to locations—in other words, places where something can "sit."

Bonus: "Insight" vs. "Incite"

As a bonus, let's analyze two related homophones: insight and incite.


The spelling insight comes from the meaning of sight that relates to perception. By extension, insight is defined as "the ability to or act of seeing the truth of a situation"; this is often an intuitive ability. Here is an example of how this word is used:

Ashok's natural insight into human behavior gave him an advantage when investing in stocks.


The spelling incite is based on cite, but not in an obvious way. The original meaning of cite related to putting an event in motion; you can see this a bit in the uses above (e.g., in the meaning "to call attention to something"), but the modern uses of that word have moved away from the original meaning. This original meaning is preserved in incite, however; it means "to move to action or urge on." For instance,

Each year, huge Black Friday sales incite shoppers to engage in cutthroat practices.

Because incite is only a verb and insight is only a noun, these words are not too easy to mix up, but if you are confused, remember that "sight" is a type of perception. That should be enough to remember which is which.

That's all for this post! Please let me know if you need any additional explanation, or if you have suggestions of particularly difficult homonyms that I can help with. You can leave a comment below or email me at Thank you for reading, and please visit the next time you need high-quality editing services.

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