Take a look at this sentence in an article in The Guardian. The author writes, “Few attendees at Sanders rallies – least of all Sanders – seem the least bit phased”. The context clearly implies that the author meant to use the word ‘fazed’ which means “to cause (someone) to feel afraid or uncertain”, whereas ‘phased’ means something else entirely.
I have seen this mistaken use many times and it is understandable given that the two words have such similar pronunciations. The word phase also appears in many situations, unlike faze, and is thus more familiar. But I am surprised that the editors at the newspaper did not catch the error.
These homonym traps are all over the place. Other common instances are there/their/they’re, its/it’s, effect/affect, compliment/complement, discrete/discreet, perimeter/parameter, and principal/principle, though I am sure that there are others that do not come to mind. One has to be vigilant to guard against them.
For me at least, one reason I make such mistakes is because before I write a word down, I ‘hear’ the sound of it in my mind rather than ‘see’ it and, if I am not careful, I can unthinkingly write the wrong word. The situation is compounded by spellchecking software because if you make a mistake, the software inserts the word that is closest to it, which may be the homonym. When writing any of these words that have homonyms, I try to pause and make sure that I am using the right one but some still slip through.