Which Word Wednesday: Pore vs. Pour

By September 19, 2012 language One Comment

Not all homonyms are created equal. Sometimes one of them is more popular than the other, so we forget how to use the words properly. This week’s Which Word Wednesday considers the use of pore and pour. And I think pore’s homonym status causes pour to be used improperly, as my writer friend Queenie found in this example recently: The student poured over her books—as in, concentrated heavily on the content. But this is all wrong, according to the definitions in The Oxford American Dictionary:

pore :: noun
a minute opening in a surface, esp. the skin or integument of an organism, through which gases, liquids, or microscopic particles can pass

pore :: verb
be absorbed in the reading or study of

pour :: verb
flow rapidly in a steady stream

If a student concentrates heavily on her books, she pores over them. Pouring over them would mean she doused the pages with water, which would not be likely.

How does this confusion happen? The OAD explains:

People frequently confuse the verbs pore and pour. Pore is used with over or through and means “be absorbed in reading something” . . . while pour means ‘flow or cause to flow in a steady stream.’ . . . As pore is a much less common word, people often choose the more familiar pour, producing sentences such as she was pouring over books and studying till midnight. Although increasingly common, this use is incorrect in standard English.

What’s my WWW verdict? Watch out for those overshadowed homonyms. Use pore for openings and studying; pour for dousing.

What’s your verdict? Do you know the difference between pore (an opening) and pore (studying intently)? Have you poured over your books? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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