Homonyms

What is a homonym?

By definition, a homonym is one of two or more words that have the same sound and often the same spelling but differ in meaning. So, homonyms share some characteristics with both homophones and homographs.

Homonyms always sound the same. Sometimes they are spelled the same, but not always.

Homonym examples

Spelled the same: bank (embankment or place where money is kept)

Spelled differently: there, they're, their

Here are some more examples of homonyms:

pet (to stroke or a domesticated animal)

spring (the season or to bounce)

to, two, too.

pet (to stroke or a domesticated animal)

spring (the season or to bounce)

to, two, too.

fit (a tantrum or to match)

might (perhaps or power)

bear (the animal or to endure)

fair (pleasing in appearance or a market)

pet (to stroke or a domesticated animal)

right, write, rite

for, four fore

poor, pour, pore

raise, rays, raze

eye, aye, I

night, knight

prey, pray

How to tell the difference between homophones, homonyms, and homographs

The terms "homonym," "homophone," and "homograph" designate words that are identical to other words in spelling or pronunciation, or both, while differing from them in meaning and usually in origin.

Homonyms are, in the strictest sense, both homophones and homographs, alike in spelling and pronunciation.

A homophone is one of two or more words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling. Homophones always sound alike, so remember the ending "-phone," which is a Greek root meaning "sound."

A homograph is one of two or more words that have the same spelling but differ in origin, meaning, and sometimes pronunciation. Homographs are always spelled the same, so remember the ending "-graph," which is a Greek root meaning "writing."

The term "homonym" is used more frequently than "homophone," a technical term, when referring to words with the same pronunciation without regard to spelling. "Homonym" is also used as a synonym of “homograph." Thus, "homonym" has taken on a broader scope than either of the other two terms and is often the term of choice in a nontechnical context.

Linguist Neil Whitman suggests looking at the three terms as a Venn Diagram: "One circle contains homophones; the other circle contains homographs; and the football in the middle contains homonyms."

What are your favorite homonyms?

Complete English Grammar Rules is available for purchase as Paperback and Kindle eBook.
Share Tweet Share

Conversations