Easily Confused Words: Sheer vs. Shear

Sheer and shear are easily confused words. They are also homophones, meaning they sound alike, but are spelled differently, and possess different meanings.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. 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 suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Sheer is an adjective.

  • It can mean something that is transparent or very close to transparent.
  • Figuratively, it can mean something clear-cut or transparent. For example, thinly disguised emotions.

Shear is a noun. It means a blade, a pair of scissors, or other mechanism used for cutting. A shear or Shears come in different sizes for different uses: shears for haircutting, shears for trimming plants, shears for cutting wires and heavy duty materials.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Shea was close to graduating the hair academy; she was full of sheer joy about the start of her career. For a gift, she received an engraved set of shears with the message, “To Shea, A Cut Above. Love, Mom.”

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