You’ll see the word ‘homophone’ used quite often in the world of English grammar because there are many homophones in our language. But what exactly are they? That’s what we’ll find out today.
In short, homophones are sets of words with different spellings and meanings that are pronounced the same way.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Some common homophones we have covered include:
Notice how these words are all spelled differently and mean different things, yet they are pronounced the same. That’s precisely what a homophone is.
Usually, homophones come in pairs, but sometimes you can get three or more words, like ‘they’re’/’their’/’there.’
But homophones aren’t the only kind of word that’s easily confused in the English language. There are also homonyms and homographs. The difference between these three categories of words is quite subtle. Let’s look into it.
Homophones and homographs are basically types of homonyms. What they all have in common is that they have different meanings. Sometimes they are spelled the same, sometimes differently. Sometimes they sound the same; other times, they don’t.
Looking at the etymology of the word ‘homophone,’ we can see that:
So yes, homophones sound the same.
Homophones are words that are spelled differently, pronounced the same way, and have different meanings.
Men are of the ‘male’ gender. Letters and postcards are ‘mail.’ As you can see, these two words have entirely different meanings, yet they’re pronounced exactly the same.
Then you have homographs.
So yes, homographs are spelled the same.
Homographs are words that are spelled the same way, pronounced differently, and have different meanings.
A ‘bow,’ pronounced with a long ‘o’, is a decorative item you can use on gifts or a suit. A ‘bow,’ pronounced with an ‘a’ sound, is a curtsy in which you bend your body in reverence to greet someone or show respect.
These two words are pronounced differently and have different meanings, but they are spelled the same.
That's right. These are like a mixture of homophones and homographs: they are spelled the same way, are pronounced the same way, and have different meanings.
These words that are both spelled the same and pronounced the same are usually just referred to by their umbrella term 'homonym.'
Now that we’ve got that out of the way and you understand (hopefully) the meaning of each type of homonym let’s look at some homophones in a sentence.
In the examples below, I’m going to use examples of homophones in the same sentence, so you can see how they’re used in context. Notice how each homophone pair (underlined) is pronounced the same but has a different meaning.
Can you stop by the store to buy some caramel?
Whether or not we go camping will depend on the weather.
I’ve been feeling weak all week; I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
We need to cite our references on our site.
I think David’s here; I can hear his car pulling up in the driveway.
So there you have it. Homophones are two or more words that sound and look the same but mean different things. Don’t confuse them with homographs and homonyms.
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