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Know Your Homonyms! Faze vs. Phase, Flair vs. Flare, & More

In this edition of Know Your Homonyms, I cover seven sets of homophones that (mostly) start with "F" or "G." Keep reading to learn about the differences between these similar-sounding word pairs: faze & phase, flair & flare, forbear & forebear, forgo & forego, gibe & jibe, gild & guild, and grisly & grizzly.

Know Your Homonyms: faze & phase, flair & flare, forbear & forebear, forgo & forego, gibe & jibe, gild & guild, and grisly & grizzly

Faze vs. Phase

Though these words are pronounced the same, they are spelled very differently and have different origins, so you should be able to keep them straight once you've learned a bit about them. First, faze is a verb that means "to disconcert or upset"; it typically is used in the negative, as a way of indicating that a normally upsetting event did not have that affect on a person (e.g., she was not fazed by the interruption).

The word phase, by contrast, is more common and more versatile in its use. It is most commonly used as a noun to refer to one part of a cycle, plan, or multipart event. These can be explicitly defined, such as the phases of the moon or of a butterfly's life cycle, or more general, as in the common refrain regarding young children: "just going through a phase." In chemistry, it also refers to the various states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, etc.). There are also the common phrases "in phase" and "out of phase," which are synonyms for "in sync" and "out of sync," respectively. Finally, phase can be used as a verb, in combination with various prepositions (e.g., phase in, phase out, and phase into); these verbs describe transitions between phases.

Here are some examples of these homophones in action:

Even losing a shoe couldn't faze Marissa; she kept running and finished the race in first. Rogelio was remarkably unfazed by the torrential rains that fell as he drove. I've outlined specific goals for all five phases in my comprehensive career plan. The pianists played the song perfectly in phase, which created a rich, resonant sound. Doctors are seeking to phase out the medication due to the severity of its side effects.

As a mnemonic for telling these words apart, I focus on how being fazed affects one's feelings (both start with "f") and how a phase is a part of something larger (both start with "p").

Flair vs. Flare

These words can be a bit tricky to distinguish because they both can indicate something that catches attention in a positive way. However, they have different origins. Flair with an "i" originally referred to an odor (it shares a root with the word "fragrance," in fact). Over time, this word's meaning changed significantly, however; etymologists theorize that, after becoming associated with a hound's ability to smell during a hunt, flair came to refer to any such innate skill. This sense of "natural talent" is the most common meaning today, with slight distinctions that refer to any distinct tendency (e.g., a flair for the dramatic) and to a characteristic style (e.g., a Californian flair).

Interestingly, the origins of flare with an "e" are unknown. Its original meaning in English is "to spread out," and it particularly referred to hair. This usage is less common today but still exists (as in a flared pant leg). Over time, flare expanded to also mean "to give off a bright, unsteady light" (it also is a noun referring to such light); you can imagine how this came to be, as a bright light can be said to be "spreading out" from its source. This sense is used often in astronomy (as in a solar flare). The term flare also refers to a bright light used for signaling (as in an emergency road flare). In turn, this meaning became more general, referring to "a sudden outburst or outbreak" (often, but not always, written with "up": a flare-up of eczema).

Here are some sample sentences:

Eunice has a flair for attracting attention, even in a crowd. Jonathan's clothing is normally subdued, but his party attire always has great flair. Rhonda's new hairstyle flares outward below the ears to create a bell shape. The brief flare of light from the match was enough to attract the rescuers' attention. The conflict has died down over the past decade, save for two brief flare-ups.

If you are having trouble remembering which word has which meaning, think of the similarities in meaning and spelling between fire and flare, both of which start with "f" and end with "re."

A Quick Note On "For" vs. "Fore"

The next two pairs of words can easily be distinguished as long as you know the difference between two prefixes: for- and fore-; whereas for- means "without" or "against" (think of "forbid" and "forsake"), fore- (with an "e") means "before" (you can see why). As long as you remember that both fore- and "before" end in "e," you'll be able to separate these homophones easily.

Forbear vs. Forebear

These words share the root "bear," which means "to carry" or "to hold." Using what we just learned about the prefixes for- and fore-, we can see how forbear has come to mean "to hold oneself back" or "to do without." By contrast, then, forebear means "ancestor" or, more generally, "predecessor" (literally, "one who came before"). Here are example sentences with both versions:

Despite a desire to not offend her guests, Elsa could not forbear her negative opinions. Edward's forebears came to the country on a rickety ship in the late 19th century.

As you can see, there is an additional distinction here: Whereas forbear is a verb, forebear is a noun.

Forgo vs. Forego

These words are, of course, based on the common word "go"; using the meanings of their prefixes, you can easily guess their definitions: Forgo means "to go without," and forego means "to go before." These words also tend to be used in different way, as forgo is usually a simple verb, but forego is more commonly used as a participle (as in a foregone conclusion, the common idiom that means "a predetermined result").

Here are some sample sentences:

Many Catholics forgo meat or another favorite food in honor of Lent. For definitions of key terms, see the foregoing section of this paper.

Gibe vs. Jibe

Neither of these words have clear origins, but they are unrelated. The word gibe means "to taunt or tease"; it is also a noun referring to words that act as such a taunt. Jibe, on the other hand, means "to agree with," typically in reference to general attitudes rather than specific opinions. For instance,

After weeks of constant gibes in the locker room, Alan fought back against his bullies. The findings do not jibe with the accepted wisdom, so more research is needed to confirm.

Although gibe can also be spelled with a "j", that is the less common version, so it is best to stick to the spelling with a "g" so as to make the distinction between these words clearer. To remember the distinction, try thinking about the fact that it is usually gross to gibe someone but judicious (wise) to have your opinions jibe with theirs.

Gild vs. Guild

The spelling gild is based on the word gold, for reasons that should be obvious from the spelling; it means "to cover in a thin layer of gold." Metaphorically, gild can also mean "to create a deceptive appearance"—based on the fact that gilding something can deceive people into thinking it is solid gold. You may also have heard the idiom "to gild the lily"; this means "to add something unnecessary" (based on the idea that a lily is already beautiful and thus does not need a gold coating).

On the other hand, a guild is an organization based on a common interest or skill; it is often, but not always, a professional group. Guilds are often used to pass on knowledge to others in a trade. They were much more common before the advent of trade schools and before most young people were expected to continue their educations after high school; today, they are relatively rare.

Here are some examples:

The ring is not valuable because it is not solid gold; it is only gilded brass. All the company's engineers have joined a professional guild to share knowledge.

To tell these words apart, try to remember that "u" ("you") can only join a guild (the spelling with a "u").

Grisly vs. Grizzly

Finally, we have two terms that are commonly misunderstood; in addition to being mistaken for each other, both grisly and grizzly are the subject of misconceptions. Something that is grisly inspires disgust or horror (it is based on a Dutch word meaning "to shudder"); because it is often used in reference to violent crimes, many people believe that grisly means "violent" or "savage," but it does not. A particularly violent crime can certainly inspire disgust, but so too can many sights. For instance, a filthy bathtub could be called grisly.

The most common use of grizzly, of course, is in relation to the type of bear. Because bears are ferocious, many have come to associate grizzly with fearsomeness or power, but it actually is just a form of the word grizzled, which means "having streaks of gray hair"—and, by extension, "old and weathered." The bear variety gets its name from the fact that it gets gray patches as it ages.

If you can remember that the bear has gray hair, you should be able to distinguish between grisly and grizzly (as most people know that the bear's name is the one with "z"). See these examples:

The film is difficult to watch, especially the grisly scene in which vomit flows freely. After 20 years in a coma, Wallace felt very weak, and his appearance had turned grizzly.

That's all for this edition of Know Your Homonyms! Please let me know if you need any additional explanation, or if you have suggestions for other homonyms to cover in this series. 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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