Many English-usage rules make you think. This is especially true for homophones such as “correspondence” and “correspondents.” Words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings should put you on mental alert to slow down and ensure that you are using them correctly.

Correspondence Defined

The most common definition of “correspondence” refers to the act of two-way communication, usually through letters and emails. Use this term correctly in a sentence by saying, “Every time I return from vacation, I face a pile of correspondence on my desk." Less often, “correspondence” refers to the relationship of two things, usually when they agree or conform. Use it correctly by saying, “His essays on the topic are in correspondence with his speeches.”

Correspondents Defined

A “correspondent” is a person who communicates, usually in a professional media capacity but not always. If you watch the news, you probably see reporters identified as “correspondents” in foreign countries who report news and events from those locations. Use “correspondents” correctly by saying, “I'm amazed sometimes at the composure of correspondents who report from war zones.” “Correspondents” also can refer to people who communicate by letter under far less dramatic circumstances, for example: “If you took a poll at most colleges, you'd probably find that students are poor correspondents with their parents.”

A Trick to Remember the Difference

Homophones can be tricky, even when you understand the difference but can't remember which one to use in a certain context. Come up with a clever way to distinguish the two or fall back on an old journalist's memory trick with “correspondents,” noting “dents” at the end of the word. “Correspondents” are often in a hurry to meet a deadline and so can literally “dent” their shoes in their hustle back to the newsroom.

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