What's the Issue?

Whether you are writing, speaking, listening or reading, you need to know the difference between similar-sounding words.
Not knowing the difference is a common weakness of many students.

Hi Guys & Girls,

There are many words in the English language which sound the same but mean something different. These are called ‘homophones’. 

Homophones are a real deal-breaker in the IELTS. If you use a certain word (speaking or writing), but you mean a different word, this can result in you scoring poorly.


Heres a definition of a homophone:

“Words which are pronounced alike but different in meaning, derivation or spelling.”


Here’s some examples:

  • ‘To’, ‘Two’, ‘Too’

  • ‘Break’, ‘Break’

  • ‘Believe’, ‘Belief’

  • ‘Hear’, ‘Here’

  • ‘Know’, ‘Not’

Each line of these homophones are pronounced the same, or very similar to one another.

So, ‘What’s the issue?’.

Well, let me explain, using ‘Believe‘ & ‘Belief‘ as examples…


1. They have completely different meanings.

Homophones aren’t synonyms. They mean different things and have to be used in different contexts. Here’s the meanings:

Believe (verb)

Being confident of something that isn’t guaranteed or factual. ‘Believing’ something is subjective (a personal opinion), because it isn’t guaranteed or a fact. For example, “I believe it’s going to rain”. A ‘fact’ is something that’s 100% proven – there is no uncertainty that everybody agrees with it. For example, “It is raining outside”.

Belief (noun)

A deep faith, or internal feeling that something exists or is absolutely true. For example a belief in a God or a belief in helping the less-fortunate.


2. They have different synonyms

You should already be aware that synonyms form a very important part of your IELTS exam. In particular, the writing section.

As homophones mean different things, they also have different synonyms. For example:

Believe Synonyms:
  • Think, accept, admit, consider, trust, conclude.
Belief Synonyms:
  • Accept, conviction, faith, feeling, hope.

So, this means is you use the wrong synonym in the exam, the examiner will penalise you and you will achieve a lower band score. Not good.

If you would like more info on using synonyms in the writing section, click here.


3. They can’t be used in the same way in the same sentence.

Homophones can’t be used interchangeably because they have different meanings and word forms (noun vs. verb). Let’s look at some sentences for example:

‘Believe’ in a sentence:


I believe it’s going to be a hot summer this year.



I belief it’s going to be a hot summer this year.” 


‘Belief’ in a sentence:


I have a strong belief that every person should be kind and courteous to one another.



I have a strong believe that every person should be kind and courteous to one another.


Grammar and punctuation are vital parts of your IELTS and we cover this topic in more detail here


4. The pronunciation is often different (important for the speaking section).

Not all homophones are pronounced differently. Some are pronounced exactly the same, such as ‘too’ and ‘two’. But often, there are subtle differences in the way they are pronounced, such as ‘to’ (pronounced ‘tuh’) and ‘too’ (pronounced ‘tooh’). 

Believe & Belief are also pronounced slightly differently:

  • Believe – Pronounced ‘Be-leev’.
  • Belief – Pronounced ‘Be-leef’.

So, if you ever use these words, you need to know how to pronounce them, otherwise you risk losing marks in the speaking section!


Cool! Well done if you have read down to this part – I hope this has highlighted ‘Homophones’ and why you have to understand what they are for the IELTS. We cover more information in our Free IELTS Writing eBook, so make sure you’ve read it! There’s an instant download available here.

All the best!

Sam  🙂