Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Words that sound the same when spoken, but are spelled differently and have different definitions, can present quite the challenge when it comes time to write them down. Homophones are particularly challenging if one or more of the variations is used more seldomly than its more common counterparts. We’ve seen this with copyright and copywrite, for example.

Today, we take a look at a trio of words with entirely different meanings, but sound exactly the same: site, sight and cite.

A site usually refers to a physical place or location that is fixed in nature. The reference point may or may not be still in existence. For instance, you might talk about the site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The actual gardens are no longer there, but the place where they once stood is still there.

Similarly, we talk about web sites (now more commonly written as “websites”) and construction sites. Less commonly, “site” can also be used as a verb, which would then mean to place a building in a certain location: The City of Vancouver wants to site the new art gallery on Cambie Street.

The word sight can be used as either a noun or a verb. As a noun, it refers to the ability to see. We associate our sense of sight with our eyes. Sight, in this context, has the same meaning as “vision.” If you have something “in sight” (two words), it means that you can currently see that something. Contrast this with “insight” (one word), which refers to a deep inspection of something or gaining an understanding of the inner nature of something. You might say that Aaron Koo offers some great insight on RRSPs and TFSAs in one of his recent posts.

It can also mean something that was seen or is worth seeing: The Eiffel Tower is an amazing sight to behold. In this context, you could say that “sight” has a similar meaning as “view.” And there is also the sight on a gun, which is what you use to aim. If you have something like a sniper rifle, you might be looking through a scope, which is particular type of sight.

Not surprisingly, “sight” used as a verb has related meanings to those above. It means to see, get sight of or, in the case of the sight on a gun or weapon, to take aim at.

And finally, cite is used a verb, meaning to quote or list the originating source of a particular piece of information. In academics, you’d likely have a list of references or a bibliography at the end of an essay. That is how you cite your sources. You are giving appropriate credit.

It can also be used in a more general sense: Citing standard Japanese decorum, Will advised Tim not to eat his onigiri while walking down the street.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 topic? You can post a comment on this site and I’ll add it to the queue. I might even cite your comment in the resulting article.