What Are Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs?
Homonyms is a broad term for words that are spelled the same, sound the same, but have different meanings. Homophones and homographs are types of homonyms. Homophones are two or more words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. Homographs are individual words that are spelled the same, sometimes pronounced differently and have different meanings.
You will find slightly conflicting definitions of the above terms. Just remember that these are all words in the English language that sound alike or are spelled the same, but have different meanings. They may all be referred to as homonyms, which is a term loosely applied to this phenomenon.
Don’t forget that these sound the same and are spelled the same. Examples of homonyms and their meanings are:
- Bat – A specialised piece of equipment used to play sports (e.g. cricket bat, baseball bat). It can also be a nocturnal flying mammal.
- Bear – This can mean a large furry mammal or to support a heavy weight.
- Fan – As in football fan (supporter) or a device that keeps you cool.
- Fine – This means of high quality or very thin or fragile. It can also mean that someone is feeling well, or it can refer to a financial penalty, typically linked to an act of wrongdoing (e.g. speeding, littering or vandalism).
- Gross – This can mean the sum of 12 dozen (i.e. 144), without deductions (as in gross pay), or an act or object that is unpleasant or repulsive.
- Wave – To move the hand from side-to-side to greet someone, grab their attention or say goodbye. It can also mean semi-curly hair or a wall of water that crosses the ocean.
Homophones sound the same, but must be spelled differently. Below are several examples of homophones and their meanings:
- Buy / By / Bye – To purchase something, to go past, or to say goodbye.
- Hear / Here – To listen to something or be at this place.
- Their / There / They’re – Belonging to, be at that place or contraction of they are.
- To / Too /Two – This is an infinitive that precedes a verb to show that it is in its base form. Too means as well as. Two refers to the number 2.
Remember, homographs must have the same spelling, but sounds differently. Below are several examples of homographs, together with a brief description of their meaning:
- Bass – A type of fish or instrument (e.g. guitar, clarinet, drum). It also means a male singing voice of a low pitch.
- Bow – This is a type of knot that is often used for decoration (e.g. on clothes or presents, or in someone’s hair). It is also part of a weapon system (bow and arrow). When you bow your head, it means that you bend your head to look at the ground, usually as a mark of respect.
- Minute – A unit of time (60 seconds) or record of a meeting. It can also mean something that is extremely small or a fraction of a degree, when measuring angles.
- Tear – This can mean to rip something apart or fluid emanating from the eye duct.
For further reading, you may want to try reading Homonyms, Homophones and Homographs: Vocabulary Building (English Word Power Book 3) by Manik Joshi. It is an independently published book which can also be downloaded on Amazon Kindle, if you need it straight away.