Hone In vs. Home In


Does a plane home in on a target or hone in on it? Does a musician hone her skills or home them? Are these two verbs interchangeable or do they have discrete meanings? Today we explore the origins and uses of hone and home.

Hone entered English as a noun for a pointed rock used as a landmark. In the 1400s, it began to be used in reference to a whetstone for sharpening razors and other cutting tools. A few centuries later, hone picked up the verb meaning “to sharpen on a hone.” The sharpening element took figurative shape in the now widely used verb sense from the early 1900s: “to make more acute or effective; improve; perfect.” This is the sense invoked when we talk of improving one’s skills, as in “The pianist honed his articulation with hours of practice.”

The word home also entered English as a noun; it first referred to a dwelling, house, or shelter. In the mid-1800s it began to be used as a verb meaning “to go or return home,” popping up frequently in discussion of homing pigeons. In the early 1900s, home picked up the more specific sense of “to proceed, especially under control of an automatic aiming mechanism, toward a specified target, as a plane, missile, or location.”

So the simple answer is that a person, bird, or aircraft homes in on a target, but a person hones his or her skills. Style guides urge writers to observe this distinction and avoid using hone in altogether. The not-so-simple answer is that the meaning of a word is dictated by its usage, and people use these terms in overlapping and sometimes fused ways. As a result, some dictionaries include a definition of hone that borrows the target theme from home: “to focus attention on an objective.” And some include a definition home that is synonymous with hone.

Nevertheless, to keep your writing clean and clear, it is a good idea to steer clear of hone in.

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  1. LorraL -  September 2, 2016 - 12:27 pm

    I always thought that HONE in meant to stick you nose into something. He honed in on our party plans. Is this totally incorrect?

    • Mark -  October 29, 2016 - 9:47 pm

      In this case, I would choose the term “horn in,” rather than “hone in.” To horn in implies forcing or squeezing in, as with a shoehorn.

  2. Jean -  August 4, 2015 - 2:20 pm

    Don’t know if anyone else caught it – the reference to home leaning toward being a verb as in “homing pigeon”. I’d say the “homing” in “homing pigeon” is an adjective. Please explain if I’m wrong.

    • Dave -  August 26, 2015 - 9:41 am

      The lexical definition for homing defines it as an adjective.

      • Caeleb -  September 14, 2015 - 10:28 am

        In this case the word “homing” is a present participle, which is, by definition, an adjective made from a verb. With a focus on the pigeon, “homing” acts more as an adjective, but with a focus on the participle itself, the implication leans more toward the verb.

        • Warren -  December 10, 2015 - 10:13 am

          Caeleb is correct – if you consider a present participle as an -ing modification of an implied infinitive (e.g. “to home”, meaning to GO HOME, with the verb action implied) it makes it easier to comprehend forms of the word “home” as a verb.

          For example, “The pigeon will home, the pigeon will eat.” is future tense, where, while “home” feels awkward because of the unfamiliarity of the use, there is no question that it is a verb in the same way that “eat” is a verb.

          In a present tense, “The pigeon is homing, the pigeon is eating.”

          When the act of “homing” then becomes a familiar descriptor of the pigeon, the participle applies logically as an adjective; “Homing pigeon.”

          Regardless of the route of modification, the term “homing” originates as a verb.

  3. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  August 3, 2015 - 8:07 pm

    It’s like two sides of the same coin: “home-in” means to find-and-aim-for the place, while “hone-in” meant (if-ever as a phrase) to adjust to the very spot; e.g. the homing pigeon flies in the ‘correct’ direction till it sees its home and finally rushes-like-diving-in, while, a rifle-marksman would adjust his target-sight (reticule) to the landmark (“hone”) and let-fly… obviously applications vary as to aiming, midcourse corrections, arrival touchdowns,… homing and honing…

    • L Savage -  August 6, 2015 - 1:07 am

      “Hone-in” has no correct meaning. It is the result of people incorrectly mixing the term “Hone” and “Home-in” because they sound similar.

      However, like any meme, as people misuse it, other people repeat it, and so the misuse spreads.

    • Kagi -  August 12, 2015 - 8:14 pm

      I agree, they are different in sense to me, not the same, and therefore I certainly would not say either had no meaning; they complement each other, but lie along different vectors, I think. I would use home-in as more of a….drawing in effect, as if there is a beacon or signal drawing a plane/person/whatever toward a given point, whereas ‘hone in’ to me has more the sense of precision targeting in the sense of a weapon being let fly, fired or blasted to a specific, precise point. I wouldn’t use hone-in for a sense that had nothing to do with weapons. Even if that weapon were a kitchen knife, ie. ‘He honed his knife in preparation for honing-in on his target, a large cucumber waiting to be sliced.’ That sounds a little silly, but you get my point, imo hone-in has something to do with weapons, spc. used sharply and accurately, whereas home-in is more broad and abstracted, more related to homing-in on a radio signal, tracking a transmission, hunting down a clue or lost object that you KNOW is somewhere in this room, homing-in on it’s location…or a single woman ‘homing-in’ on the only available man in the room (or vice versa). There’s a difference, is all I’m saying, and I’d use a different one depending on the context, they are in no way interchangeable to me, although I think in some few cases they might overlap; none comes immediately to mind.

    • Brian Schwartz -  April 12, 2016 - 1:20 pm

      yes, this. thank you mr. petry!

  4. jhon daker -  August 3, 2015 - 8:38 am

    AwsomeHyejin was right home has a “m” and hone has a “n”lololol

  5. Elias -  August 3, 2015 - 12:33 am

    Thanks for introducing the phrasal verb, ‘home in’.

    • Michelle R -  August 19, 2015 - 8:45 am

      Interesting! I’ve always understood the word hone as to sharpen, as in sharpen ones skills or a razor, etc.; and thought that “home-in” was either a military term or had a very specific meaning that has been expanded over time.
      I also find it interesting that the author suggest removing hone in from our vocabulary or using a different word – WHY? The word hone has been in use as a verb for 500 years longer than the newer word home. The confusion only appears to be over centering on a target when the “-in” is added. Did the author mean to keep the word hone, but remove the term hone-in? If that’s the case I guess I can accept that vocabulary is constantly evolving, but I rarely agree with the masses, I’m more of a traditionalist. I say use whatever word/term is most appropriate for the situation.

  6. Mr.Etiquette -  July 31, 2015 - 4:28 pm

    I call major BS! There in fact IS a well known TERM called “Hone in or Hone-In” because it is WIDELY known that when you hone in on some skill, you are IMPROVING that skill. But in the same manner it means the very same thing, it’s just misunderstood on what is meant by the TERM when it is used to “Hone in” on the target”. You see, you are still IMPROVING a skill here, that would be your TARGETING skill, your accuracy. So not only does hone in EXIST, but it also has complex meaning depending on the CONTEXT it is used in. The very same can be said for “Home in or Home-In”, EXACTLY the same! So if it can be said of the one AND the other then you cannot ignore the existence of either one!

    • Lil Saath Rocker -  August 4, 2015 - 2:43 pm

      Thnx 4d xplanation of hone in

    • L Savage -  August 6, 2015 - 1:10 am

      “Hone” is a synonym of “Home-in”. “Hone-in” is a term that was accidentally created by people who mixed the two, presumably because “hone” sounds a lot like “home” and they didn’t realise there was a difference.

    • Jim -  August 8, 2015 - 7:35 am

      Watch your blood pressure, Mr. E. It’s not that important. In the Air Force, we Home in on the radio beacon, never Hone in, even though it’s always a good thing to get there. After I land, I Hone my razor.

  7. ImFromThatEra -  July 30, 2015 - 12:22 pm

    It turns out that “Hone in” can be used correctly in a sentence, especially if you are medieval wordsmith.
    Example: “Engilbert requested that Bradeford put the hone in the satchel when he was done sharpening his anelaces and rondels.”

    • Lemos -  July 30, 2015 - 8:49 pm

      Engilbert and Bradeford, cool names, haha

    • AwsomeHyejin -  July 30, 2015 - 9:40 pm

      The differ between hone and home is that hone has a n and home has a m

      • DisGirlLOVESPandas -  August 2, 2015 - 5:14 pm

        LOL that’s true. I couldn’t really find the OBVIOUS (one of the six words that ruin my sentences-oh well, whatevs) answer in the 200-250 worded article. It seemed to boring to read until this person saved my confusion from getting worse :) :)

  8. cordelia -  July 30, 2015 - 5:54 am

    I want to be good in learning English language.

  9. Ben -  July 29, 2015 - 4:32 am

    It seems to me that I recall a usage of “hone in” that meant “to get to the point.” Perhaps I misunderstood the intent, but it seems reasonable to say something like, “We need to hone in on the meaning of life.” The article above makes it seem like “home in” would be more appropriate, but judging from the meaning of the words, hone in fits more sensibly in this kind of expression.

    • Doc -  July 31, 2015 - 2:21 pm

      “Hone in on the meaning of life” is correct if speaking of narrowing, or sharpening, as it were, the meaning of life (which I find to be a curious example)

      • L Savage -  August 6, 2015 - 1:13 am

        The correct usage in this case would be “Hone the meaning of life”.

      • Amy -  July 27, 2016 - 8:53 am

        We need to hone the meaning of hone. That is, if there is one.

  10. Jim Gladwin -  July 28, 2015 - 5:33 pm

    Thank you Dictionary.com! Now, can you please shine a light on the dreadful use of “loose” as a substitute for “lose”?

    • patricia wiliamson -  July 30, 2015 - 10:20 am


    • Bob -  July 30, 2015 - 10:33 am

      I don’t think “loose” is a substitute of “lose.” It’s just ignorance, mostly from a generation that doesn’t care about proper spelling, grammar or punctuation.

      • Cody -  July 30, 2015 - 5:52 pm

        That isn’t completely fair. It is also for those whose native tongue isn’t English. The Dutch often make this mistake.

        But no, it isn’t a substitute, that is true.

    • Beth -  July 31, 2015 - 8:00 am

      That’s one of my biggest pet peeves!! The most egregious (and totally ironic) instance of this I ever saw was an advertisement in the newspaper for a local lawyer. It was one of those ads that is made to look like an article-feature in the paper (called something like “Legal Advice for Today”). The text explained how you really should get a lawyer for any legal proceeding — the law is so technical, and legal language must be so precise and specific, so you absolutely need someone who has the necessary training and experience to do it right.

      And what was the “headline” of this article-advert about the precision and correctness required in legal language? It was….

      “Refuse to Loose”

      • Sir Dugald -  August 2, 2015 - 5:30 pm

        If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would read, “Born too loose.”

  11. David -  July 28, 2015 - 3:33 am

    So, let me be sure I’ve got this straight: the bottom line here is, rather than learn the difference between the two, let’s just expunge one of them from the language. Yikes.

    • Stuart -  July 28, 2015 - 6:39 pm

      The difference between the two is that one (“home in”) is correct, and the other is incorrect — and should therefore be expunged.

    • Michael Brennan -  July 28, 2015 - 7:03 pm

      No, it’s learning the difference between the two. There is no such thing as HONE in

    • qwer -  July 29, 2015 - 4:53 am

      If you read what the author wrote, then you would have learned the difference between the two already. In proper English, we do not use the phrase “hone in” because it is confusing.

    • Scott Mac -  July 29, 2015 - 7:29 am

      I believe what the sentiment focuses on, is the ‘in’ after hone (at the end of the blog piece), and not suggesting to remove the word completely.

      Further, ‘Home’ might have the central focus of something physically moving towards a given target, while ‘hone’, might most often refer to a more intangible accuracy of improving the skill of a given thing, or in the case of the earlier meanings, to physically enhance, augment or improve the sharpened edge something tangible.

    • Doc -  July 31, 2015 - 2:23 pm

      Ditto David. “For the protection of the lowest common denominator, keep vocabulary simple please” how the cnclusion read to me.

      • L Savage -  August 6, 2015 - 1:18 am

        Then I am afraid you missed the point, which is (even though the lowest common denominator might be ignorant of this fact) that “Hone in” is actually not a legitimate term.

        • D Visser -  August 8, 2015 - 7:00 pm

          And who, exactly, decided that it is not a legitimate phrase? Until someone made it up, ‘home in’ was not a legitimate phrase either. You seem to be very certain of your idea that this term is incorrect. I would argue that ‘hone in’ is just as legitimate as ‘home in’. Hone, being ‘to get to a point’, makes much more sense than to ‘home’, the process of ‘homing’ ie. to return to a home. To ‘home in’ on something that is not your home, sometimes not even a physical location, but more often than not an idea – well, the term ‘home in’ in this context makes absolutely no sense. ‘Hone in’ would be a much more appropriate use for ‘narrowing in on an idea’. Home does not mean narrowing – but hone does. Therefore, I think that both phrases are correct, depending on the context in which you use them. How do you think that we got any phrases to begin with, L Savage, if it weren’t for people making them up??

  12. Marcela Araujo -  July 28, 2015 - 2:34 am


  13. august -  July 27, 2015 - 2:33 pm

    so in conclusion:
    there is no such expression as “hone in” and there never has been

    • martin hernandez -  July 29, 2015 - 1:52 am

      Just think of the word “hone” as sharp or (plural) sharp when describing something then HOME in on it! Get it?

      • martin hernandez -  July 29, 2015 - 2:15 am

        The word “HONE”is a verb” and “HOME”is a noun”period.

        • capt. donkeypunch -  August 2, 2015 - 4:10 pm

          @martin hernandez

          2 things.

          First, your statement is patently false. Those are the most common forms of those words, not the only forms.

          Second, learn how to use quotation marks.

    • qwer -  July 29, 2015 - 4:53 am


  14. Jon L -  July 27, 2015 - 7:38 am

    interesting, and confusing, but I think I get it.

  15. Amyh -  July 27, 2015 - 5:15 am

    So one can hone their skills to home in…

  16. Captain Quirk -  July 27, 2015 - 12:01 am

    What’s interesting (and unfortunate) is that even appellate court opinions often incorrectly use the phrase “hone in” (on something) when they mean “home in”.

  17. Orlando Lafica -  July 25, 2015 - 8:45 am

    In order to hone my communication skills I decided to home in on this helpful article. Thanks for the help.

  18. Steve -  July 25, 2015 - 6:01 am

    Sounds like a simple distillation might be that “hone in” is always wrong. Unless, perhaps, I asked you to “Use the word hone in a sentence.” As Einstein said (or should have said), “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    • qwer -  July 29, 2015 - 4:55 am

      Sounds like a Thoreau quote.

      • Majo -  August 5, 2015 - 1:59 pm

        Simplify, simplify, simplify. If he practiced what he preached he would have just said: simplify.

  19. Richard -  July 24, 2015 - 1:22 pm

    I have been trying for years to educate many of my American friends on this point with little avail. It’s good to get some backup!!

  20. Laura B -  July 24, 2015 - 11:03 am

    Vindicated! I was helping a friend edit a newsletter and this particular word was at issue. I’m glad to know that my editorial content was correct – I was so insistent that I was correct that an extravagant apology would be necessary if things went against me!

  21. Dixie -  July 24, 2015 - 9:56 am

    It was nice to know that I knew the difference.

  22. Eva -  July 23, 2015 - 8:41 pm

    Interesting, thought they were both hone

    • alicia -  July 27, 2015 - 2:07 am

      well, duh! check the spelling! they have different spelling! one is hoNe and the other one is hoMe!

      • Barbara -  July 28, 2015 - 5:52 am

        I’m sure Eva meant she previously thought both examples would have used the word hone. She was sharing her epiphany.
        You, however, shared that you’re rude and sophomoric.

      • Anne -  July 28, 2015 - 9:38 pm

        Your comment shows your type of person: rude, and impatient. You should work on your tenses too so that you can understand simple English statements.

        • Evariste -  July 31, 2015 - 12:57 am

          you’re right Anne

      • Anne -  July 28, 2015 - 9:40 pm

        Your comment shows your type of person: rude, and impatient. You should work on your tenses too so that you can understand simple English statements!

  23. irene -  July 23, 2015 - 7:55 pm

    I know a new word today that is HONE IN….really informative…

  24. sam -  July 23, 2015 - 4:32 pm

    Thanks for shining the light on the word “hone”. Your site is an eye opener and full of “treasures”.

  25. Nataraja PS -  July 23, 2015 - 12:17 pm


  26. OldNassau -  July 23, 2015 - 11:01 am

    To add to Nuala’s insight above, as far as I can tell, “home” as a verb (to move in the direction of) must be followed by “in”.

    • Bart -  July 26, 2015 - 9:07 am

      Not quite. Pigeons are said to home, without using “in” (which then requires an object).

  27. Marquita -  July 23, 2015 - 10:59 am

    Interesting never heard before, if so didn’t know what it meant. Luvu2life

  28. Marquita -  July 23, 2015 - 10:55 am

    Interesting, never heard the word hone. If did, didn’t know what it meant. Luvu2life

  29. raina -  July 23, 2015 - 7:16 am

    To know about the usage of wards is aptly good l think every one should go through. …….

    • Jim Bob -  July 24, 2015 - 2:01 pm

      It sounds as if you need to “go through” it a bit more in order to hone your grammar skills.

  30. raina -  July 23, 2015 - 7:12 am

    Indeed most informative. …

  31. Nuala -  July 23, 2015 - 6:08 am

    Very simple, so clear. Dont use in with hone. I always felt that to hone meant to sharpen, like the edge of a knife

    • Jennifer -  July 23, 2015 - 11:53 am

      Same here. I like the distinction between the two. To “home in”, used in certain phrases, sounds uneducated. But I’m willing to try, for the sake of good writing.

  32. hillary -  July 23, 2015 - 12:22 am


    • Chris -  July 27, 2015 - 5:33 am

      Hone in is just wrong on so many levels. That the uninformed can shape our beautiful language is a dreadful thought.

      • Jamie -  July 27, 2015 - 6:00 pm

        Well said, Chris. I couldn’t agree with you more!

      • Gary -  July 28, 2015 - 12:33 am

        The shaping of the language has never been the prerogative of the educated. Moreover, the language has ever been enriched by the vernacular of the uneducated classes.

        • Chet -  July 29, 2015 - 7:50 am

          Snobbish comment above aside, there’s a difference between popular usage enriching our language (as it always has) by adding color, character, and meaning, and just confusing two different words that sound alike.

          • RasEnoch -  July 29, 2015 - 11:14 am

            To simplify what I have gathered from your post about the two words in question: Hone is to gather while home is to return to.Am I correct?

          • Vern R -  July 30, 2015 - 4:13 am

            RasEnoch, Hone, rather than to gather, is to sharpen or improve (hone your skills, hone a blade) Home in, rather than return to, is to aim accurately for something. (After much research he managed to home in on the fugitive’s location.)

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