Word Confusion: Home In On versus Hone In

Posted August 12, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 3 September 2017

This is a particularly nasty confusion and came up in a listserve to which I belong. When I realized that I was confused…well, you know what they say about curiosity and the cat. It’s one of the penalties of being a Leo…LOL…

The simplest difference is target versus cut. Home in on targets the point of the sentence while hone cuts down to the essentials.

I’d appreciate input that will help make this confusion clearer…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Home In On Hone In
Credit to: Merriam-Webster: hone and hone in; Cambridge Dictionaries Online: home in on

“Target” courtesy of Daily Kos Labor

Teachers feel homed in on.

“The Mana Party and Its Identity Problems” courtesy of Bryce Edwards at Liberation

A post honing in on the Mana party’s problems.

Part of Grammar:
Verb phrase

Third person present verb: homes in on
Past tense or past participle: homed in on
Gerund or present participle: homing in on

Verb phrase, intransitive

Third person present verb:hones in
Past tense or past participle: honed in
Gerund or present participle: honing in


Proceed to or toward a source of radiated energy used as a guide

Proceed to or direct attention toward an objective

Aim for

Find and give a lot of attention to something or someone

Concentrate, focus

An alteration of home in

Move toward, focus attention on an objective

Heading toward a metaphorical target or a point by sharpening your argument,
cutting away extraneous material, clarifying the objective

Merriam-Webster states that using hone in is likely to be considered a mistake; that you meant home in. And that using home in and zero in are acceptable.

Brian Klems has a great tip: if you need in on at the end of the phrase, it’s home, if you don’t need in on, it is likely to be hone.

Home in on the radio beacon for the airfield to get us back.

Those bombs are using our radio signals to home in on us.

The missile homed in on the ship.

The report homed in on the weaknesses in the management structure.

She’s really honing her argument.

They’re honing the plan to its bare essentials.

History of the Word:
First known use: 1965

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Victims of the Mozote Massacre, Morazán, El Salvador, January 1982 by Susan Meiselas, Magnum Photos, is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 US license, via Wikimedia Commons.