Homophones: A Part and Apart

Aug 23, 2019 | Posted by Jennifer


According to Dictionary.com, a homophone is defined as a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as in heir and air. Today’s pair are ones I frequently find misapplied by my students as well as by some of my friends in their social media posts. Interestingly enough, these two words mean virtually the opposite of each other, and the only difference between them is a tiny space. What are they? A part and apart.

A part means literally that. Something is a part of (belongs to) something else. A dish is a part of a set of dishes. An athlete is a part of a team. A chapter is a part of a book. Those parts belong to the larger group. They are part of the collective. In this case the “a” is functioning as an article that points to the noun “part.”

By contrast, apart means virtually the opposite. If something is apart from something else, it is pulled away from the other and separate from it. It is frequently encountered in the idiom stands apart. For example, a truly exceptional novel stands apart from its competition. It is special, separate, alone. Apart indicates distance. Houses can be spaced several feet or several miles apart. People can also grow apart, which indicates an emotional separation. The word apart hails from Latin and means to the side, which explains its meaning. Things that are apart are set to the side.

So as you can see, a part and apart are miles apart in meaning, but a little etymological search helps us understand why. As you teach your students, be sure they are able to understand and use these words correctly. Clearly, the difference between the two is vast. Using the word or phrase correctly may be just the thing that sets their writing apart from their peers’.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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