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homophones

[ (hom-uh-fohnz, hoh-muh-fohnz) ]
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Two words that sound alike. This category includes words that are spelled the same, such as trunk (of an elephant) and trunk (a storage chest), as well as words spelled differently, such as deer and dear.

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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.

VOCAB BUILDER

What are homophones?

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).

These two senses of bark can also be considered homographs. You can learn more about the difference in the next section.

As long as two (or more) words have the same pronunciation and different meanings, they are homophones.

There are thousands of homophones in English, including many commonly used words, and their identical pronunciations make it so they’re often confusing, even for native speakers. Autocorrect may not recognize incorrectly used homophones when they’re technically spelled correctly, so you just have to be aware of them as best you can.

What's the difference between homophones, homographs, and homonyms?

There is a helpful way to tell the difference between homophones, homographs, and homonyms: knowing what their endings mean can help you remember how they’re used.

Homophone, homonym, and homograph all start with homo-, which means “same.”

The -phone in homophone means “sound.” So homophones are words that sound the same. Homophones always have different meanings, but they may be spelled the same or differently. Bear (the animal) and bare (meaning “uncovered” or “empty”) are homophones. So are bear (the animal) and bear (the verb meaning “to carry”).

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. For example, bass (the fish, rhymes with class) and bass (the instrument, rhymes with ace) are homographs. So are bear (the animal) and bear (the verb meaning “to carry”).

As you can see, the two senses of bear can be considered both homophones and homographs. When words are both homographs and homophones—meaning they have both the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but different meanings—they can be called homonyms.

The –nym in homonym means “name.” The word homonym can also be used as a synonym (there’s that –nym again) for either homophone or homograph.

Overall, knowing what the word homophone means is a lot less important than making sure you use homophones properly so people can understand what you mean.

Did you know ... ?

Sometimes, whether two words are homophones depends on how people pronounce them. For example, the word aunt may or may not be a homophone of the word ant depending on how the speaker says aunt.

What are real-life examples of homophones?

Homophones are often a source of confusion, especially when it comes to choosing the correct spelling of common words like your/you’re, it’s/its, and to/too/two.

 

What other words are related to homophones?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following word pairs are homophones?

A. creek and creak
B. toe and tow
C. threw and through
D. all of the above

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