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Know Your Homonyms! Hail vs. Hale, Horde vs. Hoard, & More

In the latest edition of Know Your Homonyms, I cover seven sets of homophones that start with "H." Keep reading to learn about the differences between these similar-sounding word pairs: hail & hale, hair & hare, hanger & hangar, heroine & heroin, him & hymn, horde & hoard, and humorous & humerus.

Know Your Homonyms!: hail & hale, hair & hare, hanger & hangar, heroine & heroin, him & hymn, horde & hoard, and humorous & humerus

Hail vs. Hale

There are actually two words that are spelled as hail, in addition to their homophone hale. The first version of hail means "to greet"; it has a positive connotation (i.e., it implies that the person doing the hailing is happy to see the person being hailed). Through this positive tone, hail has been extended to also mean "to acclaim" (as in hailing a scientific discovery). The second form of hail refers to the weather phenomenon that involves precipitation in the form of icy balls (known as hailstones). As a noun, it refers to the phenomenon itself or to the stones; it is also a verb that refers to the act of hailstones falling.

By contrast, hale has one meaning: "healthy." The connotation is that a hale person is both free of disease and able-bodied.

Here are some examples of these homophones in action:

Brendan hailed Coretta from across the street and asked her where she was headed. Experts from around the world hailed the economists' novel work on income inequality. The sound of the hail hitting the metal roof was reminiscent of a machine gun firing. After a thorough investigation, the doctors proclaimed Jeanette "hale and happy."

To keep these words distinct, think about the similarities between the words hail and "rain" (i.e., types of precipitation sharing vowels) and between the words hale and "health" (also with the same vowels, albeit in a different order).

Hair vs. Hare

You obviously know what hair is—it's the long strands that humans and other mammals have in many places on their bodies. In addition, a "hair" is a very small amount of a distance or other measure (as in winning the race by a hair); this meaning comes from the thinness of an individual strand of hair.

A hare is a type of rabbit-like mammal. It differs from a rabbit in that its ears are longer and in that it lives solitarily (or in pairs), not in groups. This animal was famously the subject of one of Aesop's fables, "The Tortoise and the Hare."

A Hare
A Hare

Here are some sample sentences:

Sarah has brown hair, but all three of her children are blondes. Renaldo got to the store just a hair too late; it had just closed for the day. With a top speed of 50 miles per hour, hares can outrun most predators.

You likely won't have any trouble with the spelling of "hair," as that word is so common. As long as you remember that the animal's name is spelled differently, you should be fine.

Hanger vs. Hangar

These two words are quite similar-looking, but only hanger actually has anything to do with the act of hanging things. A hanger is a device that is used to hang other objects—such as clothes on a rod or a frame on a wall. In some cases, this spelling can also refer to an object that hangs (e.g., a strip of cloth) or to a person who hangs things by trade (e.g., a wallpaper hanger). There is also the related term "hanger-on," which refers to a person who leeches off of someone else; I'm sure you can see the metaphorical sense of "hanging" here.

The term hangar has an unknown origin but is not related to the act of hanging. A hangar is a covered (often enclosed) storage area for vehicles; it originally referred to the storage of carriages, but today, this term usually refers to the storage of aircraft. Here are example sentences with each word:

Mildred puts all of her clothes—even her socks—on hangers to prevent wrinkling. Numerous hangers-on who sought to benefit from Nolan's newfound athletic fame. When not in use, your plane must sit in its hangar and must undergo regular inspections.

To tell the difference, remember that a hangar is an "area" for storing planes (note the "ar" in each word).

Heroine vs. Heroin

These words are very commonly confused despite their very different meanings. The term heroine is the feminine form of the word "hero"; it thus refers to a woman who is admired and emulated for her accomplishments and/or character. Note that the word "hero" is gender-neutral, so there really is no reason to use the gendered term heroine in modern English; I'd recommend just using "hero" for all people. This word (like "hero") can also refer to a main character in a story, regardless of whether that person is admired (i.e., it is a synonym for "protagonist").

Heroin was originally a brand name for a kind of morphine (both the centuries-old morphine and the modern heroin are drugs derived from the poppy plant, but the latter is much more potent). The exact etymology of the name is unknown, but its similarity to "hero" is likely not a coincidence; one theory is that, due to the drug's euphoric effects, it makes users feel like heroes. Heroin is extremely addictive and is thus highly regulated (and illegal) in most places.

Here are some sample sentences:

Britta acted like the heroine of her own story, but her colleagues considered her egotistical. To manage heroin addiction, doctors prescribe less dangerous opioids such as methadone.

Him vs. Hymn

Him you are no doubt familiar with; it's the third person masculine object pronoun. Hymn isn't quite that common, but you have probably heard of it as well, especially if you go to church. It refers to a religious song.

I couldn't get him to return my lawn mower, no matter what I tried. The parishioners rose and sang the hymn with passion and joy.

To remember that the spelling of hymn has an "n", think of the word "song."

Horde vs. Hoard

These words are not super common, but they are frequently confused, in particular because both refer to large amounts of something. A horde was originally a term for a nomadic tribe. Over time, it has become more common as a term for a large number of people, or sometimes animals (e.g., a horde of protestors). This word connotes an almost overwhelming number. Importantly, this word refers only to living things.

On the other hand, a hoard is a hidden cache of some object or good (e.g., a hoard of gold). Hoards are usually kept so as to save for the future, either for profit or in case of necessity. This word refers only to nonliving things.

Here are some examples:

The horde of concertgoers flowed out of the exits and toward their cars. Annette spent over $1000 buying supplies for her hoard of shelf-stable food.

To tell these words apart, try to remember that a horde is a group of "people" ("e") and a hoard is a collection of "gear" ("a").

Humorous vs. Humerus

Finally, we have two terms that are so commonly misunderstood that there is a common pun related to the misunderstanding. As you can guess, humorous means "funny" (having humor), and the humerus is the upper arm bone—often called the "funny bone." Their etymologies are not related. You can remember the difference in that humerus has an "e", just like "bone." See these examples:

The humorous film had audiences rolling with laughter. After Steven broke his humerus in the car accident, he had to have a cast on for 8 weeks.

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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