Understanding the difference between closely spelled and identical-sounding verbs peek vs peak isn’t so easy, so here’s a quick look at the difference.
Pop quiz: When you summit the top of a mountain and look out over the world, what are you standing on? And when you look over the edge of a blindfold while taking a swing at a piñata, what are you doing? If you’re not sure which verb – peek vs peak – to apply to the above sentences, then you’re not alone.
English grammar is well-known for its raft of homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. (Or sometimes, even worse, spelled the same with different meanings. Ick!)
Luckily, with a little effort, you can absolutely sort through the noise and come out the other side with a solid understanding. Today, I’ll guide you through peak vs peek definitions and when to use them. We will even take a look at a bonus homophone, so jump on in.
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When to Use Peek
This is the word we use when talking about taking a quick look at Christmas presents or birthday presents. It’s also the word that forms the root of the game peek-a-boo, which we play with children.
In both circumstances, we are looking and behaving with some level of stealth, either not wanting to get caught for snooping, or pretending to disappear behind our hands with young kiddos.
No surprise, then, that Merriam-Webster defines peek as “to look furtively” or “to peer through a crack or hole or from a place of concealment — often used with in or out.” The word can also mean just a brief glance, as when you peek into a room or peek at the next chapter before closing your book.
When to Use Peak
Merriam-Webster defines the word peak as “the top of a hill or mountain ending in a point” or, similarly, as “a prominent mountain usually having a well-defined summit.” In either case, think mountains and mountain climbing. Probably the most famous use of the word “peak” in the English language is in reference to Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.
As with any word in English, though, there are other definitions, including:
- Shapes resembling mountains, as when you beat eggs whites to stiff peaks
- Parts of ships
- Projecting pieces of garments
- A career or interpersonal achievement
… or even a turn of phrase, such as “widow’s peak,” which is the hair pattern common to balding men in which a triangle juts down toward the middle of the forehead.
Nouns Vs Verbs
A quick rule of thumb is that peek is almost always a verb – an action word – whereas peak is almost always a noun – a person, place or thing. However, this isn’t always the case. There are two main cases in which they reverse parts of speech:
- When you “take a peek,” the latter word is a noun.
- When you “peak,” you hit your highest point, whether that’s physical fitness, career or talent.
Don’t assume that if you see these words as a different part of speech, the spelling is necessarily wrong. Try to get to the meaning of them. Even as a noun, “peek” still means looking; even as a verb, “peak” still means that highest point.
What About the Word “Pique”?
Muddying the waters even more, we’ve got a fun additional homophone! The word “pique” comes from French, and it operates both as a noun and a verb.
As a noun, it means a feeling of irritation. You might say, “she left in a fit of pique.”
As a verb, it means to irritate or to generate interest. Likely you’ve heard the phrase “piqued her interest” or “piqued his anger.” Pique is therefore a causative verb that means something happens following its use.
The Final Word on Peek Vs Peak
Feeling run down by all these confusing words? Not sure what’s English and what’s French? Which you had a way to sort out commonly confused words in your writing, for school or work?
There are grammar apps out there that you can use, or you can save this page for easy reference until you’re more familiar with the uses and spellings of each of these words. Don’t worry, you’ll get there soon with enough practice, so keep at it.
FAQs About Peek Vs Peak
Is sneak peek accurate?
Yes, sneak peek is accurate. You’ll know because while the two words rhyme, they should have different vowel arrangements in their middles. It’s tempting to spell the second-word “peak” to make it look exactly like the first, but if you can remember that it should look different, you’re golden.
How can I remember peek vs peak easily?
There are two little mental devices you can use to remember the difference between peek and peak. 1. Peek means looking and it has two of the same letter in the middle, like eyes.
2. Peak means the top of a hill or mountain and has a letter A in it, which is peaked in its capital form.
Either of these or both will point you in the right direction if you’re stuck!
Is there any trick for remembering pique?
Try keeping the phrase “fit of pique” in mind. Both “fit” and “pique” have the letter I in them, as does “interest.” Make sure when you’re talking about piquing interest or having a fit of pique that you use the spelling with an I, and you’ll be fine!