Grammar Chaos: Not All Cannons Go Boom

Posted on Jul 18, 2018

Growing up, we’re all taught to be careful with our words. Well, this is because something as seemingly insignificant as a single letter could change the meaning of an entire sentence. Today, we’re going to talk about two words that could do just that.


Cannon and Canon may seem alike, but they are actually very different. In the English language, they are called homophones, or words with the same pronunciation but with different meanings and spellings. Cannon and canon is only one of hundreds of pairs.

Now let’s break down the two.

Cannon, the one with the two n’s, is the one you’re thinking about: a weapon. Formally, a cannon is a form of artillery that fires projectiles at a target. Cannon can also be used as a verb, which means to bombard with cannons. Here are some examples of the word being used:

  1. This cannon is one of the few World War II remnants in this town.

  2. I got to fire the T-shirt cannon at today’s game.

  3. The police cannoned the protesters with water and tear gas.

Canon, the one with a single n, can mean a lot of different things: a code of laws, an established principle, a group of literary works, the works of a writer that are accepted as authentic, or more recently, any conceptual material that is accepted as “official” in a universe’s fan base. Unlike cannon, the verb form of canon is canonize, which has just about as many meanings as its root. Canonize can mean to officially declare a dead person a saint (in the Roman Catholic Church), to be regarded as above reproach or of great significance, or to accept into the literary or artistic canon. Here are some examples of the word being used.

  1. The pairing I am rooting for is not canon.

  2. Professor Shane asked us to choose anything from Shakespeare’s canon.

  3. My mom was in the Vatican when St. John Paul II was canonized.

Just by looking at the meaning, the difference between the two words is already obvious. A look into their history and origin, or etymology, reveals even more differences. It also clues us in on why the two words are similar in spelling.

Cannon has its roots from the Old Italian word cannone, which in turn comes from Greek word kanna, which literally means “reed” but is generally taken to mean anything that is hollow. By the 1400s, cannone was used to refer to a gun in both England and Italy.

On the other hand, canon comes from Old French word canon, which in turn comes from the Ancient Greek word kanon, meaning “measuring rod” or “standard.”

Now that you know the difference between these two words, you’ll be able to use them properly. Just remember, not all cannons go boom!

Got more grammar issues? Want to use a word but don’t exactly know how? Shoot us a message and we might just feature your query on our next blog. For more tips for writers, editors, and ESL learners, keep on browsing our blog!


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