Home in or Hone in?

Q: My niece is always misusing the word “hone” when she should be using “home.” I know the difference, but have a tough time explaining it to her. Can you explain this rule for us? —Carol M.

No problem at all, Carol. This is a mistake people make all the time. Often people misuse the word “hone” by placing it in sentences where it doesn’t belong, but it’s a simple confusion that can be cleared up by understanding its definition.

The verb “hone” means “to sharpen or make more acute,” as in honing a talent. Alfred honed his negotiation skills to buy a new car at a very reasonable price. I hone my abs by doing 100 sit-ups a day.Generally, people drop it into sentences where they should use “home.”

In verb form, “home” (as in “to home in on”) means “to move or be aimed toward a destination or target with great accuracy.” Missiles home in on targets. The leftfielder homed in on the fly ball. “Forget about the abs!” I said as I homed in on a mouth-watering candy bar.

As a simple rule of thumb, if you write the sentence and need the phrase “in on” after the verb, it’s most likely “home.” If not, you probably need to use “hone.”

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9 thoughts on “Home in or Hone in?

  1. nnicita

    This a classic case of cherry picking one’s favorite definition and ignoring the other possible meanings. Words don’t always have more than one meaning and language is dynamic, not static. Hone can also mean: to make more acute or effective; improve; perfect

    Per Merriam-Webster’s definition of hone in:

    “: to move toward or focus attention on an objective
    looking back for the ball honing in —George Plimpton
    a missile honing in on its target —Bob Greene
    hones in on the plights and victories of the common man —Lisa Russell”

    1. nnicita

      Take out “more than” in my previous comment. I was editing and meant to say words don’t always (in fact, I’d argue the often don’t) have a singular meaning

  2. David Bourne

    You don’t seem to realize that “home in” and “hone in” do not mean the same thing. They have similar but distinct meanings. “Home in” means to get closer to like a missile homing in on its target, while “hone in” means to pay close attention to, or listen to, or concentrate on something. Trying to group the two sayings together as one and decide which one is “correct” is pointless and unnecessary.

    1. btcurrer

      Thank you for dispelling general ignorance David. Both “Hone in on” and “Home in on” are perfectly legitimate phrases in the correct context.

      “Home in on” generally meaning to move towards in the physical sense. And if we take it literally it is actually referring to returning to a point of origin as in going home and in that sense a ‘homing missile’ would actually be one that returned ‘home’ after it had been fired – but i digress.

      “Hone in on” meaning to refine or ‘take a closer look at’ in a more abstract sense for example when studying a subject and one wishes to narrow their field of study to something more specific they would be “Honing in on” that narrower field of study.

  3. Melanie

    I could be wrong but I always considered to hone a verb, an action sharpen. : ; watch me as I hone my skills (well, I do hope I will hone my skills..).

    To home in on something brings to my mind the bee homing in on his beehive, smelling around for the way home.

    I will be following you Mr. Brian, you have a lot of information I need to brush up on!


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