[ puhn ]
/ pʌn /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: pun / punned / punning / puns on Thesaurus.com

the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words.
the word or phrase used in this way.
verb (used without object), punned, pun·ning.
to make puns.


Click for a side-by-side comparison of meanings. Use the word comparison feature to learn the differences between similar and commonly confused words.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of pun

1655–65; perhaps special use of pun, variant (now dial.) of pound1, i.e., to mistreat (words)


punless, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a pun?

A pun is a humorous use of words with multiple meanings or words that sound similar but have different meanings, as in The gravekeeper buried the evidence under his desk.

There are two ways to make a pun. The first involves using a word with more than one meaning to create humorous wordplay, as in The dentist put his assistants through some drills. A drill is both a tool a dentist uses and a training exercise.

The second way is to use similar sounding words with different meanings to make humorous wordplay, as in The clown helped the children across the street. It was a kind jester. Here, jester, a type of clown, is used instead of the similar sounding gesture, meaning an action or a courtesy.

Why is pun important?

The first records of the term pun come from around 1655. It was possibly used as a variant of the word pound, meaning “to strike with great force.” The idea is that a person making a pun is intentionally mistreating words for comedy.

Not everyone finds puns particularly funny or clever. The terms dad joke and groaner are frequently used to refer to puns that are really obvious (corny) and not funny. Sometimes, the comedy is the fact that the pun itself is ridiculous or cringeworthy.

However, this occasional disapproval of puns hasn’t stopped them from being used in countless jokes and even the titles of movies and other works of popular culture, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Shanghai Noon (2000).

Did you know … ?

In 2011, the Academy Award for Best Picture was given to a film with a clever pun for its title, The King’s Speech. The title refers to the fact that the film is both about King George VI overcoming his stutter (his speech) and the declaration he had to deliver over the radio during World War II (also his speech).

What are real-life examples of pun?

This video shows a collection of (bad) puns used by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1997 superhero film Batman and Robin.

Many people use puns to make jokes. Results may vary.

What other words are related to pun?

Quiz yourself!

Is the following sentence an example of a pun?

The farmer tried to guard his chickens from predators but he was constantly outfoxed.

How to use pun in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pun (1 of 2)

/ (pʌn) /

the use of words or phrases to exploit ambiguities and innuendoes in their meaning, usually for humorous effect; a play on words. An example is: "Ben Battle was a soldier bold, And used to war's alarms: But a cannonball took off his legs, So he laid down his arms." (Thomas Hood)
verb puns, punning or punned
(intr) to make puns

Word Origin for pun

C17: possibly from Italian puntiglio point of detail, wordplay; see punctilio

British Dictionary definitions for pun (2 of 2)

/ (pʌn) /

verb puns, punning or punned
(tr) British to pack (earth, rubble, etc) by pounding

Derived forms of pun

punner, noun

Word Origin for pun

C16: dialectal variant of pound 1
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 pun


A humorous substitution of words that are alike in sound but different in meaning (see double-entendre), as in this passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll:

“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?” said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.
“Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle, “nine the next, and so on.”
“What a curious plan!” exclaimed Alice.
“That's the reason they're called lessons,” the Gryphon remarked: “because they lessen from day to day.”
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.