Word Choice: Air vs. Heir
  • 2-minute read
  • 31st March 2021

Word Choice: Air vs. Heir

The words ‘air’ and ‘heir’ sound the same, which makes it easy to confuse them in writing. However, our guide will help you to avoid errors when using these terms.

Air (What We Breathe)

Typically, the noun ‘air’ refers to the invisible gases we breathe. For instance:

Your lungs fill with air when you breathe in.

But ‘air’ has several other meanings, too, including:

  • The open space above the ground (e.g. She kicked the ball into the air)
  • Flight in an aircraft (e.g. I prefer to travel by air)
  • Someone’s manner or appearance (e.g. He has an air of confidence)
  • The state of being broadcast (e.g. The show is on air until midnight)

As a verb, meanwhile, ‘air’ can mean:

  • Bring something into contact with air (e.g. I need to air the laundry)
  • Broadcast on radio or television (e.g. The new show will air tonight)
  • Express an opinion or grievance (e.g. They air their views at every meeting)

In all of the cases above, though, we use the spelling ‘air’.

Heir (Person Receiving an Inheritance)

‘Heir’ is always a noun and refers to a person who is legally entitled to the property or rank (i.e. title) of another when that person dies:

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As his heir, I inherited his house in the Cotswolds.

Prince Charles is the heir to the British throne.

The ‘h’ in ‘heir’ is silent, so it is pronounced to sound the same as ‘air’.

Summary: Air or Heir?

These words sound the same, but they have different meanings:

  • Air can be a noun or a verb and has several meanings. As a noun, it often refers to the gases we breathe or the open space above the ground. As a verb, one common meaning is ‘expose something to the air’.
  • Heir is always a noun and refers to someone who receives an inheritance.

Since ‘heir’ only has one meaning, it should be easy to remember. But if you need to tell these spellings apart, keep in mind that the ‘air’ we breathe is part of the ‘atmosphere’ and that both of these words begin with ‘a’.

And don’t forget: if you are worried about misusing these words, or any other aspect of your writing, our proofreading experts are here to help.

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