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.
A: 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.”