Grammar Tips: Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

10 Apr

As of January 1, 2014, the Global Language Monitor estimated that there are 1,025,109 words in the English language, with nearly 15 words added every day. With such a large number of words, it is understandable that there would be many words that are similar in how they are spelled and how they sound. Today, we are going to talk about some of those words. First, we will break these similar words down into three categories: homonyms, homphones, and homographs.

  • Homonyms: words that are spelled and pronounced the same but that have multiple meanings.
  • Homophones: words that sound alike but that are spelled differently and have different meanings.
  • Homographs: words that have the same spelling, but different pronunciations, and different meanings.

 Now, let’s break it down.

Homonymns

Our definition above tells us that homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but that have multiple meanings. Homonyms are also known as sound-alike words (because they sound the same when we speak them). Let’s take a look at an example:

  • The driver turned left and left the parking lot.

In this case, both uses of left are spelled and pronounced the same, but they are used differently in the sentence. The first instance of left (“the driver turned left”) indicates a direction, while the second instance of left (“and left the parking lot”) indicates a departure from the parking lot. Click here for a list of true homonyms.

Homophones

As our definition above tells us, homophones are words that sound the same, but that are spelled differently and have different meanings. Homophones often sound the same, like homonyms, but remember, their spelling is different. Let’s take a look at a common example involving to, two, and too:

  • I wanted to take two chocolates home so my sister could have one too.

In this case, we have three different words with three different meanings and spellings, but they are pronounced the same way. In order to know which word to use in which place in the sentence, we have to know which meaning to pair with the proper spelling. For example:

  • To: A preposition before a noun, or an infinitive before a verb
  • Two: spelling out the number 2
  • Too: Also

So, in the above sentence, take is a verb, and we use to as an infinitive before it. We have 2 chocolates, and if we replace the word two with the number 2, our sentence would still make sense. Since our sentence is showing that we want a chocolate for ourself and we also want one for our sister, we need to use too at the end of our sentence to illustrate that. Click here for a list of homophones.

Homographs

Lastly, as our definition above explains, homographs are words that are spelled the same, but that have different pronunciations and different meanings. These words are very confusing because although they are spelled the same, they are pronounced differently, and should be used differently. This is more of a problem with spoken English than with written English, as the spellings are the same when we write them down. Let’s take a look at an example:

  • After she used her bow to shoot the arrow through the apple, Cindy took a bow.

In the above example, the first use of the word bow is referring to the object that Cindy is using to shoot the arrow. The second use, though, does not indicate that Cindy took another physical bow to have two bows for shooting arrows. Instead, Cindy is bowing before the audience because she has completed her task. While the two words are spelled the same in the sentence, they would be pronounced differently, and in pronouncing them differently, we can easily illustrate and imply their different meanings. Click here for a list of homographs.

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4 Responses to “Grammar Tips: Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs”

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  1. Word Crimes! | The Christ College Writing Center - August 27, 2014

    […] Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs […]

  2. 38 Common Spelling and Grammar Errors Explained | The Christ College Writing Center - October 24, 2014

    […] Grammar Tips: Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs […]

  3. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

    […] Homonyms, Homophones, & Homographs […]

  4. Grammar Tips: Affect vs. Effect | The Christ College Writing Center - January 25, 2016

    […] we learned last year, when we discussed Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs, there are an estimated 1,025,109 words in the English language and this can result in some […]

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