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Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

I was raised in the 80s and 90s, and one of my favorite bands around the 80/90 turn was Soul II Soul. So please indulge me as I share one of my favorite songs (featuring Caron Wheeler) from 1989 here.

When I first decided to differentiate between the homophones sole and soul, I admit that I had a very limited view of what I was comparing (basically a part of my shoe vs. my spirit). But both words, while pronounced the same, have multiple meanings and uses.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So in this post, we're going to look at when to use sole and soul.

Sole vs. Soul

Sole can be used as a noun, verb, or adjective. As a noun, many people associate sole with the bottom of the foot or as part of footwear upon which it rests (like the sole of my shoe, for instance). However, it can also refer to flatfish from the family Soleidae. As a verb, soling refers to either furnishing with a sole (as in soling a shoe) or as the act of putting the sole of the golf club on the ground (usually during the act of putting).

Beyond all this, sole is also often used as an adjective to indicate a person, place, or thing that is either the only one, unattached, and/or independent (as in terms like "sole survivor" or "sole editor").

(How to Write a Character Who Is Single.)

Soul itself can be used as a noun or adjective. As a noun, soul can refer to the spirit of a person or other living creature. But it can also refer to a person's total self, their most essential part, and/or their moral nature. While soul is usually associated with people, it can be assigned to other living creatures and/or objects.

As an adjective, this is how my copy of Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines soul: "of, relating to, or characteristic of Black Americans or their culture." And that appears to be how terms like "soul food," "soul man," and "soul music" are used in culture. Going back up to my music above, this concept seemed to be involved in the naming of Soul II Soul the band.

Make sense?

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Here are a couple examples of sole and soul:

Correct: The sole of my right foot hurts after being on my feet all day.
Incorrect: The soul of my right foot hurts after being on my feet all day.

Correct: She questioned the soul (and grammar) of any person who refrained from using the serial comma.
Incorrect: She questioned the sole (and grammar) of any person who refrained from using the serial comma.

I'm having trouble thinking of a trick to keep sole and soul straight in my head, and I welcome any suggestions in the comments below. That said, some people worry that they or someone they know might "lose" their soul; the word "lose" is an anagram of "sole," which is not the soul people worry about losing. Sooo...that's kind of convoluted, but maybe a way to keep things straight? Use your sole discretion to determine if that's helpful.

*****

Grammar and Mechanics

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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