Homonyms consist of homophones and homographs. Different dictionary definitions of these words can lead to confusion about these terms.
Homonyms, Homophones & Homographs
Homonyms encapsulate three-word classes. “For” and “four” are examples of the first type of homonyms. These words have identical pronunciations and different spellings and meanings. The first word-class are homophones.
The second-word class features words with the same spellings. This word group has different meanings and pronunciations. These words are homographs, but they are more aptly described as heteronyms. Heteronyms make up a subgroup of homographs.
The third-word class has the same spelling and pronunciations, but different meanings. Most people think of this group as homographs. The Oxford Engish Dictionary (OED) considers them restrictive homonyms.
The second and third classes of words come from the same word subgroup: homographs. Labeling the third group as restrictive homonyms reduce the confusion between homograph types.
Homophones have different spellings and meanings. You pronounce homophones the same. Words like break/brake or idol/idle are examples of these words.
Examples of homophones:
Brake – break
- My brakes gave out and I drove into a parked car.
- I went on my lunch break.
Idle – idol
- I did not want my car to idle so I turned it off.
- The singer was my idol.
In the first example, “brakes” refers to a device that stops a vehicle from moving. “Break” refers to a brief interruption. In the second example, “idle” refers to activity with no point. “Idol” refers to a person you revere. Both examples sound the same but have distinct meanings and spellings.
Homographs under the second word-class refer to words that are heteronyms. Heteronym spellings remain consistent while their meanings and pronunciations change. Words like “advocate” and “close” are examples of heteronyms.
Examples of Heteronyms
- The advocate advocated for his client.
- Close the oven while you stand close to me.
In the first sentence “advocate” has a short “a” sound. In this form “advocate” means a person who supports a cause. “Advocated” in the first sentence acts as a verb and has a long “A” sound. It means to argue on someone’s behalf.
In the second example, the first use of “close” means to shut. The “s” in close takes on a “z” sound. In contrast, “close” near the end of the second sentence means to be near. In this instance, you pronounce the word “close” like “CLOS”.
In these examples as the meaning changes so does the pronunciation.
Examples of Restrictive Homonyms
Homonyms are words that exist as both homographs and homophones. These words have the same pronunciation and spellings but have different meanings. The words “bat” and “compact” each have two separate meanings.
Bat – bat
- The bat hung upside down in the tree,
- My wooden bat broke on the last pitch.
Compact – compact
- She had a compact car.
- She examined her lipstick in her compact.
The first example shows the word “bat” with two different meanings. In this context “bat” refers to a black rodent with wings and the second a piece of baseball equipment. In the second example “compact” means small and tiny mirrored makeup case. Words in this group have the same spelling but different meanings.
Bright – bright
- He felt bright and cheerful and full of energy.
- I’ve got two bright students, but the rest are average.
Right – right
- The man couldn’t discern between right and wrong.
- Turn right at the first traffic light.
Address – address
- I’ll give you my address and telephone number.
- We should address her as our equal.
Band – band
- Remember to put a rubber band around these books.
- She plays the clarinet in a swing band.
Rose – rose
- Sales rose by 20% over the Christmas period.
- He sent her a single red rose.
Match – match
- Today’s football match is France versus Brazil.
- You can’t match him in chess.
Cool – cool
- Don’t get excited about the exam; keep cool.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Watch – watch
- He would sit quietly and watch what was happening.
- The watch was cheap, but it goes quite well.
Wave – wave
- Several villages have been destroyed by a huge tidal wave.
- He raised his hand to wave.
Ring – ring
- The diamond ring is the most expensive.
- Our washing machine has broken; I’ll ring the electrician.
Homonyms | Infographic
Common Homonyms in English
List of Homonyms
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