Homonyms: What Are Homonyms? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on July 18, 2023

Want to learn more about homonyms? Look no further! This article will teach you everything you need to know about what they are and how to use them in your writing.

The short version is that homonyms are words with the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings. They are two types of homonyms: homophones and homographs.

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Homonyms?

To begin, I think it'll be helpful to break down the word 'homonym.' According to Etymonline, the word comes from the Greek homo, meaning 'same', and onyma meaning 'name.' From this explanation alone, we can deduce that homonyms might have the same name or something along those waters.

And if you did, you'd be correct. Two words that are homonyms are either spelled or pronounced the same (sometimes both), but they have different meanings. So, in other words, yes, they have the same name, just like two people might share the same name but be completely different people.

More than two words can be homonyms, by the way. You can get three or four words with the same spelling or pronunciation. What's more, there are two types of homonyms: homophones and homographs.

What Are Homophones?

In order to use the same powers of deduction as we did before, let's take a look at the root of the word 'homophone.' We already know that 'homo' means 'same,' but what does 'phone' mean? According to Etymonline, it means 'sound.' Makes sense; when you talk on the phone, you hear sound.

  • Indeed, homophones are words that sound the same. They are spelled differently, though, and they have different meanings.

Here are some sentence examples that use homophones within the proper context, so you can see what they look like in real life:

I need to measure my waist size for the wedding dress.
Don't throw away your food; it's a waste

We must go to the mall; they have a sale on.
She will sail all the way to Europe.

I don't know the answer.
I have no money left!

When are your parents getting home?
This isn't our baby!
We'll be gone for one hour.

Poor Johnny; his wife left him.
Perspiration oozed from every pore in her body.

Can you pour me a glass of wine?

What Are Homographs?

'Homograph' comes from the Greek homographos meaning "of the same letters." That's right, homographs are spelled the same but pronounced differently and have different meanings, too.

Take the word  'close,' for example. It can be pronounced with a 's' sound to refer to something that is nearby. It can also be pronounced with a 'z' sound to mean the opposite of 'open.'

Here are some examples of homographs used in sentences with their differing meanings:

She took a bow as the count entered the room.
It's a bow and tie event. 

The wind blew my hat off.
It's time to wind down.

I didn't even shed a tear at the funeral.
You've ripped a tear in your T-shirt.

The white dove disappeared into the sky.
He dove confidently into the river.

I'm going for the world record of most pies eaten in an hour.
They're finally going to record a new album.

Can Some Words Be Both?

The answer is yes, absolutely; some words can simultaneously be homophones and homographs. This means they have the same pronunciation and the same spelling, but they still have different meanings. These words don't have a specific name attributed to them, so the best way to refer to them is a 'homonym.'

Here are some examples:

He presented me with a single red rose.
Every morning she rose at 7am.

We wanted to play a game of baseball but we can't find the bat.
Dracula can turn into a bat at will. 

I didn't hear the bell ring.
Your engagement ring is out of this world.

I need to nail these two pieces of wood together.
I'm off to get my nails done.

Capitalize the first letter of a proper noun.
I miss the days when we used to write each other letters.

How to Use Homonyms

Since homonyms can be a little confusing, you'll want to be extra clear about which meaning you're referring to. Mostly, a reader can infer the intended meaning because of the context. That's why it's important to ensure your text isn't ambiguous and the reader will easily understand what you mean. It can help to re-read your sentence after you've written it, just to be sure.

Imagine your friend asks you the following question:

Which way should I go? It's left, right?

To which you answer:


Your friend is going to wonder whether you're saying that, actually, they should turn right or if you're saying that they're right and they should turn left. Confusing right? That's why you'll want to make sure you're being extra clear.

Some more appropriate responses would be:

That's correct, turn left.

No, turn right.

The other thing you want to look out for applies more to your writing than speaking: apostrophes. Many homonyms are actually contracted versions of commonly used words. Take the homophones 'their' and 'they're,' for example. 'They're' stands for 'they are,' so when you're writing it, remind yourself it's a contraction and that all contractions require an apostrophe. This will help you avoid some of the most common misspellings.

Concluding Thoughts on Homonyms

That concludes this article on homonyms. I hope you found it helpful and feel well-equipped to handle it in your writing.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • There are two types of homonyms: homographs and homophones.
  • Homophones are spelled differently but sound the same.
  • Homographs are spelled the same but pronounced differently.
  • Some homonyms are spelled and pronounced differently.
  • All homonyms have different meanings, whether they are spelled differently or pronounced differently. 

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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