What Is a Homophone?

In the English language, there are many words that sound the same as other words. These words may sound the same, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings. These similar sounding words are called homophones. Some examples include: wear and where, chord and cord, or knew and new. The term homophone can also include the terms homographs and homonyms.

Homophone vs Homonym vs Homograph

Words that are spelled the same but have different meanings or pronunciations are called homographs. For example, the words tie and tie. One refers to the accessory that men may wear around their necks, while the other is the verb or action we take when we knot our shoelaces. An example of a homograph that is spelled the same but pronounced differently is lead. In the sentence “Lead paint is poisonous”, the word lead is pronounced differently than it is in this sentence: “The mother duck lead her babies away from the pond.” These words also have different meanings because of the context they are written in.

The term homonym is a larger umbrella term that refers to both homophones and homographs. The word homonym means common name, which refers to the fact that it is shared by both homophones and homographs. Essentially, homophones are homonyms and homographs are homonyms, but homophones are not homographs.

Homographs In Language

Homographs may also vary by region. For example, in the United States (as in many other countries), dialects vary by geographic region. In the southern United States, the word pen may be pronounced the same as the word pin. However, this would not be the case in other regions of the United States based on their regional dialects.

The word homophone’s first recorded use was in the 1600s. It comes from the Greek word homophonos. The Greek root homo- means same. The second half of the word, phono- means either sound, utterance or voice (depending on the translation or context). So, literally, the word homophone means same sound.

Homophones are often used in wordplay and puns. Here’s an example from a children’s joke: Where do polar bears vote? The North Poll. In this pun, the homophone poll replaces the correct word pole.

While it may be a bit confusing when you get into the technical terms associated with homophones, the most commonly used definition of this grammar term is its simplest: a homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word, but it is spelled differently and has a different meaning.


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