MS Word for Writers: Homonym Hunting

Homonyms are a bare bear, am I right?

You know the difference between “faze” and “phase”, but your fingers type “The process didn’t phase him,” and your brain hears “The process didn’t faze him.” While proofreading, copy-blindness fills in the proper word instead of seeing the error, so you don’t even realize you made the mistake until a helpful reader sends you an email about finding the typo in the published book.

Fortunately, MS Word has a tool that helps find homonyms. It’s in Find/Replace: “Sounds Like (English)”.

2018-02-26_Word Sounds Like Search

Go to Home > Editing > Replace > More. Check the box for “Sounds Like (English)”. Enter a homonym you’re unsure of. For example “faze”. Click “Find Next” and Word will find any word that sounds like faze, including “phase”. You can double-check each instance and determine if you’ve used the correct word.

To make sure you find all the word forms, such as fazed, fazing or unfazed, check the box for “Find all word forms (English)”, too.

This also works for words with apostrophes, such as “it’s”. Mixing up “its” and “it’s” (or God help us, its) is probably the number one homonym mix-up across the board. Searching for them with this method is a bit tedious, but it’s a lot more reliable than trying to root them out during a proofread and much better than letting errors appear in the published book.

To find them type its into the Find field. Check the boxes for “Sounds like (English)” and “Ignore punctuation characters”. Use “Find Next” to search for each instance and determine if you used it correctly. This also works for possessives such as “the Smiths’ house” or “Smith’s house”.

EDITED TO UPDATE: It’s been pointed out that this option is not available in older versions of Word. If your Find/Replace task box doesn’t look like the one pictured above, then this isn’t going to work for you. Sorry.

Uncertain about homonyms? Here’s a terrific resource:

 Alan Cooper’s Homonym List

Happy hunting!



My goal for 2018 is to teach as many writers as possible how to efficiently and expertly use MS Word as a writing and self-publishing tool. Watch this blog-space for more tips, tricks and techniques. Or, if you’d prefer all the information in one package, including step-by-step instructions for formatting ebooks and print-on-demand editions, WORD for the Wise: Using Microsoft Office Word for Creative Writing and Self-publishing is available at Amazon as an ebook and in print.