Home vs. hone, and when to use an ‘in’

Alas, Merriam-Webster has given up on distinguishing between home in and hone in, but a careful writer should still make the distinction.

Home in means to seek out or zero in on or get closer to. A missile homes in on its target. The crisis center (see the image below) homes in on a plan of operation.

Hone (it doesn’t need an in) means to sharpen or to make more intense. You might hone the blade of an ax or hone your skills. You should avoid honing in on anything unless you want to be sent home in search of a dictionary.

Note: I’ve filed this under homophones mostly as a matter of convenience. Home and hone aren’t truly homophones, but their pronunciation is often hard to distinguish, something that apparently led to the growing misuse of hone in. So I’m declaring them honorary homophones.

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