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homonyms

[ (hom-uh-nimz) ]
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Two words that sound alike and may even be spelled alike but have different meanings, such as trunk (meaning part of an elephant) and trunk (meaning a storage chest). Often used with the same meaning as homophone.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

HOMEWORK HELP

What are homonyms?

Homonyms are words that have different meanings but are pronounced the same or spelled the same.

The word homonym can be used as a synonym for both homophone and homograph. It can also be used to refer to words that are both homophones and homographs.

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, whether they’re spelled the same or not. There, their, and they’re are homophones. But so are bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (the covering of a tree).

Homographs are words that have the same spelling but different meanings, whether they’re pronounced the same or not. Bass (the fish, rhymes with class) and bass (the instrument, rhymes with ace) are homographs. But so are bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (the covering of a tree).

As you can see, the two senses of bark can be considered both homographs and homophones. The word homonym can also be used to refer to such words—meaning they have both the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but different meanings.

There are many homonyms in English, including many commonly used words, which can make things confusing, even for native speakers.

Why are homonyms important?

Overall, knowing what the word homonym means is a lot less important than making sure you use homonyms properly so people can understand what you mean. But knowing the difference between homographs, homophones, and homonyms can help. One way to remember the difference is to learn what their endings mean.

Homograph, homophone, and homonym all start with homo-, which means “same.”

The -graph in homograph means “written.” Homographs are words that are written the same—meaning they always have the same spelling—but have different meanings. Homographs can be pronounced the same or not.

The -phone in homophone means “sound.” Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, whether they’re spelled the same or not. There, their, and they’re are homophones. Bear (the animal) and bare (meaning “uncovered” or “empty”) are homophones.

The -nym in homonym means “name.” The word homonym can be used to refer to a word that is both a homograph and a homophone. It can also be used as a synonym (there’s that -nym again) for either homophone or homograph.

The word homonym is typically used in a much looser way than homophone and homograph—it can refer to either or a word that is both.

Did you know ... ?

In biology, the word homonym is used in a more specific way to refer to a name for a species or genus that should be unique but has been used for two or more different organisms.

What are real-life examples of homonyms?

Homonyms can be a source of confusion, especially when they’re used out of context.

 

What other words are related to homonyms?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following word pairs could be considered homonyms?

A. air and heir
B. bare and bear
C. bear and bear
D. all of the above

Example sentences from the Web for homonyms

  • Homonyms are words having the same sound but different meaning.

    Plain English|Marian Wharton
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