[ hom-uh-nim ]
/ ˈhɒm ə nɪm /


Phonetics. a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air; a homophone(def 1).
a word that is both a homophone and a homograph, that is, exactly the same as another in sound and spelling but different in meaning, as chase “to pursue” and chase “to ornament metal.”
(loosely) a word of the same written form as another but of different meaning and usually origin, whether pronounced the same way or not, as bear “to carry; support” and bear “animal” or lead “to conduct” and lead “metal;” a homograph.
Obsolete. a namesake.
Biology. a name given to a species or genus that has already been assigned to a different species or genus and that is therefore rejected.



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Origin of homonym

1635–45; < Latin homōnymum < Greek homṓnymon, neuter of homṓnymos homonymous


1–3 Three similar terms— homophone, homograph, and homonym —designate words that are identical in pronunciation, spelling, or both, while differing in meaning and usually in origin.
Homophones (“same” + “sound”) are different words that sound alike, whether or not they are spelled alike. Thus pair “two of a kind,” pare “cut off,” and pear, the fruit, are homophones because they sound exactly the same, even though each is spelled differently. But bear “carry or support” and bear, the animal, are homophones that not only sound alike but are also spelled alike.
Homographs (“same” + “writing”) are different words that are spelled the same but may or may not have the same pronunciation. The homographs sound “noise,” sound “healthy,” and sound, “a body of water,” for example, are spelled and pronounced the same way. However, words with the same spelling but different pronunciations are also homographs. Familiar examples are the pairs row [roh] /roʊ/ “line” and row [rou] /raʊ/ “fight” as well as sewer [soo-er] /ˈsu ər/ “conduit for waste” and sewer [soh-er] /ˈsoʊ ər/ “person who sews.” Their identical spellings define them as homographs no matter how they are said.
The word homonyms (“same” + “names”) is, strictly speaking, either a synonym for homophones or a name for words that are at once homophones and homographs —alike in both spelling and pronunciation—such as the two words spelled b-e-a-r and the three spelled s-o-u-n-d. As a practical matter, however, the terms homophone, homograph, and homonym are often distinguished from one another by the contexts in which they are found. Homophone and homograph —the first focused on sound and the second on spelling—appear primarily in technical or academic writing, where fine distinctions are important. The more familiar word homonym, heard in classrooms from early grades on, has become an all-inclusive term that describes not only words that are both homophonic and homographic, but words that are either one or the other. In common parlance, then, words that sound alike, look alike, or both, can be called homonyms.


hom·o·nym·ic, adjectivehom·o·nym·i·ty, noun


homograph homonym homophone (see synonym study at the current entry)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for homonyms

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

    Plain English|Marian Wharton

British Dictionary definitions for homonyms

/ (ˈhɒmənɪm) /


one of a group of words pronounced or spelt in the same way but having different meaningsCompare homograph, homophone
a person with the same name as another
biology a name for a species or genus that should be unique but has been used for two or more different organisms

Derived forms of homonym

homonymic or homonymous, adjectivehomonymity or homonymy, noun

Word Origin for homonym

C17: from Latin homōnymum, from Greek homōnumon, from homōnumos of the same name; see homo-, -onym
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for homonyms

[ (hom-uh-nimz) ]

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.

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.