What Is A Homonym?

Homonym is a term used to describe words that sound the same but are different in meaning and spelling. They may also be called homophones and homographs, although some language scholars prefer to limit the term to those whose pronunciation is similar.

These terms are distinct from polysemy, which refers to words that have multiple related meanings and are listed under several dictionary entries. Polysemy is often used playfully by writers to create puns and wordplay.


There are many words in the English language that sound alike but have different meanings. This type of lexical ambiguity is known as a homonym. Homonyms are often confused with homophones and homographs, but the three terms have some important differences.

The word homonym is used more broadly than homophone and homograph, as it encompasses any pair of words that sound the same or have the same spelling but different meanings. For example, the words to and two are homonyms because they sound the same and have the same spelling, but they have different meanings. Homonyms can also be distinguished by whether or not they are part of the same word class, i.e. nouns, verbs, or adjectives. For example, the adjectives rouse and incite have different meanings but are classified as homophones because they share the same pronunciation.

It is possible to further subdivide homonyms into more specific types that only concern the spelling or pronunciation of a word, e.g. homophones and homographs, or into more general categories that encompass both spelling and pronunciation, e.g. homonyms and polysemies. Polysemies refer to words that stem from the same root and have different meanings, such as the nouns rose and sour. Homonyms are broader than polysemies because they can apply to any pair of words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings, such as the nouns to and two.

The ambiguity caused by homonyms can be frustrating for English language learners, and it is not uncommon for children to struggle with them. Knowing how to distinguish these pairs of words is therefore essential for literacy development. There are several ways to help students master homonyms, including using word mats. These mats can be kept on hand and are great for reminding students of homonyms as they read or write, or they can be used as a game where students must match the correct homonym with its definition.

Another useful tool is a homonym sorting worksheet. This worksheet includes a list of homonyms and their definitions, as well as examples of when they should be used. Students can then sort the homonyms into groups according to their meanings, spellings, or parts of speech. For an even more challenging activity, students can hide the examples of each homonym and then try to match them up.


In English, homonyms are words that are pronounced and/or spelled the same, but have different meanings. These can be a challenge for students, especially those who struggle with spelling and pronunciation. Thankfully, there are some strategies that can be used to help students learn to understand and use these tricky words.

There are three distinct classes of homonyms: homographs, homophones, and polysemes. Homographs are words that share the same spelling, but differ in pronunciation and meaning. The most common homographs include to, too, and two. Homophones are words that sound the same, regardless of whether they are spelled the same or not. Examples of homophones include bear and bare. Polysemes are words that have the same spelling, but distinct and different meanings. Examples of polysemes include cite (to refer to something) and site (a place).

To avoid confusion, it is important for students to pay close attention to context when using homonyms. This will ensure that the reader knows exactly what is meant by each word. It can also help to provide additional information about the meaning of the word if needed. For example, if the word spring is used to describe both the season and the activity of jumping, it may be helpful for the student to know that this is intentional.

Homonyms are often found in poetry and other literary works. This can make them fun for students to study and use in creative writing. In addition, homonyms can be used to add humor or flair to a piece of writing. For example, the writer could use a homonym like “spring” to add a sense of humor by contrasting it with the more serious meaning of the word.

When teaching homonyms to students, it is important for teachers to provide clear definitions. This will help to prevent confusion and make it easier for students to understand the meanings of the words. Teachers should also be sure to give examples of each type of homonym and to incorporate these into lessons. Finally, teachers should be patient when working with students on homonyms. It can take time for students to become comfortable with these types of words, and they should be encouraged to ask questions when they are confused.


The term homonym can be confusing to those new to the language. It may refer to words that sound the same but differ in meaning, such as the verbs bear and bare or the nouns record and reel. It may also refer to spelled-alike words that are pronounced differently, such as to, too and two. Or it can mean spelled-alike words that are identical in pronunciation but different in spelling and meaning, such as bow (the ship’s rigging) and buck (the animal). Words spelled exactly the same but with different pronunciations are called homophones, while those that are spelled differently but pronounced the same are called homographs.

There is also a third category of homonyms that can be spelled the same or differently but have related meanings. These are called polysemes. The words mouth, which can refer to either an orifice on one’s face or the opening of a cave or river, and serve (to provide nourishment) are examples of polysemes.

Words with multiple meanings can be particularly troublesome, especially when they are used in the wrong context or with little or no surrounding information. A homonym can be confusing for someone who is learning the language, and it can cause misunderstandings when used in conversation or in writing.

It can also be a source of humor when used in the form of a pun, which is a phrase or sentence that uses a word with a different meaning than its usual meaning in order to make a humorous point. There are many famous examples of this type of wordplay in the English language, including the puns spelled out on this page.

Homonyms can be further subdivided into classes that concern only spelling or pronunciation, such as homophones and homographs. In addition, there are words that have different meanings when capitalized but share the same spelling, such as march and reading. These are called capitonyms. They are not as common as the other types of homonym, but they can be confusing to some people, and they may be overlooked by modern technology such as spell-checkers.

Defining A Homonym

When words sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, they are called homonyms. Homonyms can be confusing, especially for children learning to spell. They also can be confusing for people who are reading quickly and don’t pay attention to the spelling of a word or its pronunciation. The process of defining a homonym involves separating the word into its constituent parts: homographs, homophones and homonyms. Homographs are spelled the same and have the same pronunciation, while homophones are spelled differently and have different pronunciations. Homonyms are the umbrella term that covers both homographs and homophones.

The word homonym comes from the Greek root word ‘homo’, which means the same, and the Latin suffix ‘nym’, which means name. The word ‘homo’ refers to the same pronunciation and ‘graph’ refers to writing. When the two are separated into their parts, they can be more easily understood. Homonyms are often difficult for children to master, so it is important that parents and teachers work with them on a regular basis to improve their spelling skills.

A homonym is a word that agrees with another in pronunciation and possibly spelling but differs from it in meaning, such as the noun bear and the verb bear. Some homonyms are common, such as the word bat, which can be used to describe an item of equipment or to refer to the animal. Others are less common, such as the word record and the noun record.

Although homonyms can be very confusing, most people don’t have a problem understanding them when they are in context. Usually, the writer will use context clues to make it clear which word is meant. For example, if a king wants air, we know he isn’t talking about suffocating, but that he wants to hear a song.

However, if the writer uses the word record to mean something else, it will be confusing for most readers. This is because the reader may not understand that ‘record’ can mean more than just a music file. For this reason, it is important for writers to choose carefully when using homonyms.

Mr. Greg

An English teacher from Scotland who made a website to share resources for free with the whole world! Currently based in Hong Kong, teaching in an International Kindergarten and tutoring Primary students.

Recent Posts