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Commonly Confused Words: ‘Home’ vs. ‘Hone’

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People often use the word ‘hone’ when they mean ‘home,’ as in the following sentence: “Let’s take a minute to hone in on their weaknesses and then build an effective strategy.” The correct word here is ‘home.’ This is a more subtle error, and if you begin to pay attention, you will probably hear it uttered on radio and TV in addition to your everyday life. But as with grammatical errors in general, this trip up is viewed more sternly in written form.

The verb ‘to hone’ means “to make more acute, intense, or effective,” as in, “He honed his Scrabble skills by playing repeatedly against the computer.” By contrast, the verb “to home,” means, “to proceed or direct attention toward an objective.”

An easy way to remember the distinction between the two is to call to mind either a homing device—a guiding system that brings an object (typically a missile) to its target—or a homing pigeon—a type of pigeon with an innate ability to find its way back to its nest. Both can be effective means for capturing the abstract concept of distant-to-close, wide-to-narrow conveyed by the verb.

English is a remarkably flexible language, and words have historically changed their meanings over time. It is entirely possible that over the next one hundred years ‘hone’ may take on a new meaning as a result of today’s usage. For now, though, stick to the proper definition, especially when you’re writing.

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