Choose the right words – sheer v shear

This will help you avoid using he wrong words – when the words are to be seen (not heard as in broadcast news)


It’s been a while since I’ve added to this site.  I started working for an Australian commercial television news program and  as I read news stories from many different sources (especially ‘print’ and on-line), I see lots of examples of word confusion – even from professional journalists who use words for a living.


TB headline technique

In television news (even though words are often to be heard not seen) mistakes still matter when words are presented on the screen  – in graphics or ‘supers’ or ‘strap lines’.

The mistake I saw today was confusing sheer and shear., The reporter wrote shear – when the word should have been sheer.

Shear can mean to cut the wool from a sheep or to break off  e.g. “the gear sheared and jammed in the rear wheel”

You can use the word sheer to describe:

  1. extremely thin fabric
  2. a perpendicular cliff
  3. nothing other than – e.g sheer delight

So I encourage you to be aware of the difference between sheer and shear when you write.


international-communication TB

In a previous job I helped people from ESL (English-as-a-Second-Language) backgrounds – and I saw plenty of examples of word confusion.

Working back in TV news I’m lucky to see plenty of examples of word confusion too – mainly due to the shear volume reporters have to produce.*

You need to know the difference between homonyms like sheer and shear (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and a have different meanings). Spell check often won’t pick up if you use the wrong word. From my experience, a large percentage of the audience watching television news is ‘more mature’.  They were probably taught the difference between shear and sheer.  To use the wrong word (where the word will be seen) would be shear madness.*






*deliberate mistakes to see if you noticed the incorrect use of sheer/shear!

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