Easily Confused Words: Tier vs. Tear

Tier and Tear are easily confused words and homophones.

Homophones means words that sound the same, but have different meanings.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of tier and tear. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect also tries to anticipate what word you want based on the first few letters. But sharing letters doesn’t mean sharing meanings.

Both of the following words are pronounced “teer.”

Tier (pronounced “tee-r”; rhymes with beer, fear, year) is a noun, meaning a layer or row in a stack of objects (like in a cake), or a level in an organization’s staff hierarchy. On a cake, the top tier is the one where candy, cake toppers, or candles are placed. In an organization, persons at higher tiers usually have more responsibility and more pay than those at lower tiers.

Tear* is a noun, meaning a droplet of salty water that our eyes shed when we cry. Animals aren’t necessarily sad, but they too shed tears to remove excess salt from their bodies, to lubricate their dry eyes. Sea turtles and crocodiles are two examples or creatures that shed tears.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Tela, a baking and pastry student, was in tears when the tiers on her Wedding Cake Final collapsed. Her instructor hadn’t seen it yet, and now she had nothing to show. She was terrified of flunking out of such a prestigious institution as Le Cordon Bleu.

*Tear, the verb, is also a homograph of tear (pronounced “tair”; rhymes with care, fare, mare.) It is written the same, but pronounced differently. See that post coming soon.

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