Hot or cold? A chilly lesson about chillies

Homophones are words that sound like each other but have different spellings and different meanings. One common issue is the dreaded, ‘their, there and they’re’ but this year I have been bugged by a more unusual example. I have been writing about the fun I have had growing, cooking and preserving my own chillies and have found myself becoming confused in my writing between  the country, the sea temperature and the small, fiery fruit. Here is my quick guide to chilli homophones to help you avoid swimming in an overheated sea and eating tasteless Mexican dishes.

Chilli number one – the spicy one

The chilli pepper (family Capsicum annuum) has a few options for spelling depending on where you live but here in the UK we have one chilli (singular) and (if you like your curry hot) several chillies (plural). If you are struggling to count the tall, spiky letters in these words, you are not alone and to compound the difficulties, if you are in the USA, you will be dining on chilies. Needless to say, there is some flexibility between the two, not to mention a fair amount of disagreement.

This year I grew several varieties of chilli.

I have so many chillies that I’ve resorted to flavouring my gin with them.

Chilli number two – the brown saucy one with rice

Chilli con carne means ‘chilli (number one) with meat’ so, quite sensibly, its spelling follows the convention for chilli number one depending on which side of the Atlantic you find yourself. You can’t eat too much of this dish, so no plural necessary.

I would like a large portion of chilli con carne with brown rice.

Chilly number three – the wintery one

If you jump in the sea in December you are bound to emerge feeling a tad cold. The correct spelling for this adjective is perhaps the easiest to manage because it takes a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’. You might also use chilly number three to describe someone’s response to something you have done.

After my morning swim, I felt chilly all day.

My blog post about Brexit met with a chilly reception.

Chile number four – the country

We all have ‘want to visit’ lists and Chile is on mine but I am not going to allow myself to go until I have fully taken in the spelling of this intriguing and beautiful country. This is perhaps the most tricky of all the spellings of this cheeky homophone, once you have mastered it however, you also have to remember to give it a capital letter!

I visited Chile to explore the Atacama Desert.


I am still struggling a bit with this homophonous mystery but I hope the above helps you. If I can’t get it right before next spring, I am seriously considering growing a tomato instead (only one though, because I can never remember whether or not the plural requires an e!)

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