Literary Discourse: ‘ExpEnsive’ and ‘ExpAnsive’: Sources of Confusion

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 Source: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq


‘EXPENSIVE’ and ‘EXPANSIVE’ are adjectives of phonetic similarities but of semantic differences. This implies that both adjectives are similar in pronunciation but different in meaning. Communicators, especially writers, in English should be very careful when using any or both of them, as they could constitute a fertile ground for miscommunication. Technically, these words and many other similar ones are called HOMOPHONES.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this discussion, fellow learners and readers should be able to gain an improved comprehension of:

• HOMOPHONES in the contexts of ‘EXPENSIVE’ and ‘EXPANSIVE.’


These are words of identical pronunciation but of different meanings and spellings. Homophones are also called SOUND-ALIKE WORDS. Examples are ‘EXPENSIVE’ and ‘EXPANSIVE.’


‘EXPENSIVE’, in a phrase, means costing a lot of money. In one word, it implies ‘COSTLY.’ Example in usage: University education in Ghana is very EXPENSIVE. According to The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the root of this adjective is the verb ‘EXPEND’. Other derivatives are ‘EXPENSIVELY’ [adverb], and ‘EXPENSIVENESS’ [noun].

Contrarily, ‘EXPANSIVE’ is explained as ‘covering a wide area in terms of space or scope.’ In a word, ‘EXPANSIVE’ means ‘EXTENSIVE.’ Example in usage: University education leads to (a range of) EXPANSIVE opportunities. Morphologically, the mother of ‘EXPANSIVE’ is the verb ‘EXPAND.’ Related words are ‘EXPANSIVELY’ [adverb] and ‘EXPANSIVENESS’ [noun].

Lexical categories of homophones

It is significant to state that homophonous words do not necessarily belong to the same Lexical Category. Lexical Categories are Word Classes or Parts of Speech. For instance, two or more homophones may be made up of a verb and a noun, an adjective and a noun, a preposition and a noun, a pronoun and a noun. Below are some examples:

• Preposition and Noun – TO, TWO; IN, INN; FOR, FOUR.

• Verb and Noun – WON, ONE; BE, BEE; SEE, SEA; MEET, MEAT.

• Noun and Noun – SUN, SON; ANT, AUNT.

• Pronoun and Noun – I, EYE.

• Adjective and Noun – WEAK, WEEK.

Sample of homophones

Below is a sample of homophones we are more likely to come across in writing. It is instructive to note that good dictionaries and thesauri may help us understand some of the homophones that are not part of our active vocabulary. Corpus analysis of relevant homophones may be the most effective approach to comprehension and usage. (We intend to entertain fellow learners and readers with a comprehensible discourse on the Corpus-based approach to language analysis very soon):

• toe, tow, week, weak, mane, main, tail, tale, our, hour

• bare, bear, so, sew, here, hear, dear, deer, grown, groan

• hare, hair, sail, sale, wait, weight, their, there, maid, made

• hole, whole, medal, metal, knight, night, fur, fir, right, write

• road, rode, piece, peace, cents, sense, ate, eight, threw, through

• peak, peek, seam, seem, feat, feet, steal, steel, flea, flee

• male, mail, pale, pail, days, daze, rays, raise, vane, vain, vein

• pair, pare, pear, stair, stare, loan, lone, flour, flower, principle, principal

• throne, thrown, doe, dough, clothes, close, waist, waste, brake, break

• cent, scent, sent, wear, where, site, sight, cite, berry, bury

• which, witch, pedal, peddle, bored, board, sweet, suite, creek, creak

• affect, effect, allowed, aloud, aisle, isle, I'll, patience, patients

• weather, whether, accept, except, ceiling, sealing, hanger, hangar, alter, altar

• vile, vial, wave, waive, addition, edition, horse, hoarse, manor, manner

• sensor, censor, bizarre, bazaar, heel, heal, carrot, carat, miner, minor

• sole, soul, rain, reign, rein, pause, paws, wail, whale, heard, herd

• naval, navel, sheer, shear, air, heir, scene, seen, presence, presents

• cellar, seller, allusion, illusion, capital, capitol, symbol, cymbal, compliment, complement

• boarder, border, council, counsel, genes, jeans, bridal, bridle, incite, insight

• whine, wine, mall, maul, muscle, mussel, slay, sleigh, course, coarse

• discreet, discrete, loot, lute, currant, current, profit, prophet, borough, burrow

• carrot, karat, moose, mousse, ascent, assent, lessen, lesson, aid, aide

• dual, duel, cereal, serial, idle, idol, faint, feint, wrote, rote

• baron, barren, birth, berth, knead, need, mantle, mantel, leased, least, colonel, kernel.


Summing up, we humbly advise fellow learners and communicators to consult dictionaries, thesauri, or relevant reference material whenever in doubt about the right usage of the words under review in the right contexts. In fact, memory can fail, and what appears to be a simple word can equally be a source of a ridiculous error when misapplied out of memory failure.


Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar. (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greebaum, S. (1991). An introduction to English grammar. Harlow: Longman.

Sakyi-Baidoo, Y. (2003). Learning and communicating. (2nd ed.). Accra: Infinity Graphics.

Sekyi-Baidoo, Y. (2002). Semantics: an introduction. Kumasi: Will Press Ltd.

The Oxford advanced learner's dictionary. (2000). (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale

Email: azindoo200@gmail.com Tell: 0244755402

Columnist: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq