Posted by: Jack Henry | July 6, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Homonyms, homophones, homographs, and heteronyms

Good morning!

Several of you sent me a comic strip several weeks ago about a kid (goat) in a candy shop. I can’t find it in my files, but the main point of it was the homonyms and homophones. There are many -nyms, -phones, and -graphs, and it can get complicated. I found a great article about this on Daily Writing Tips. Here are some definitions, a chart symbolizing how these items cross over, and I have added examples to each of them.

Homonym comes from the Greek homo which means “same” and onym which means “name.” When we talk about words, however, what should we use to define their names? The spelling or the pronunciation? Probably both. Homonyms, therefore, can be defined as two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

Since there are several “types” of homonyms (e.g., same spelling but different pronunciation, same pronunciation but different spelling, same spelling and same pronunciation), further categorization is needed. We can say that homonyms represent the big category, from which three sub-categories emerge:

Homophones: two or more words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings. They may or may not be spelled the same way.

  • brake/break: Use the brake when you bicycle or you may break your neck.
  • cell/sell: You can spend years in a cell if you sell illegal goods.
  • ball, bawl: Sam took Hammy’s ball and Hammy started to bawl, with sad tears running down his face.
  • caret, carat, carrot: The editor marked the document with a red caret to indicate where carrots belonged on the recipe list. As she marked the document with her red pen, her three-carat diamond shined brightly.

Homographs: homonyms that share the same spelling. They may or may not have the same pronunciation.

  • bass: type of fish OR low, deep voice
  • bow: type of knot OR to incline
  • evening: smoothing out OR after sunset
  • minute: tiny OR unit of time
  • moped: was gloomy OR motorcycle
  • wave: move the hand in greeting OR sea water coming into shore

Heteronyms: those are homonyms that share the same spelling but have different pronunciations. That is, they are homographs which are not homophones.

  • Close: CLOZE – to shut; CLOS – near
  • Console: KAHNsole – an upright case; kunSOLE – to comfort
  • Deliberate: diLIBerit – carefully considered; diLIBerATE – to consider
  • Dove: DUV – a bird; DOEV – jumped off
  • House: HAUS – a building that serves as living quarters; HOWZ – to provide with living quarters
  • Minute: MINNit – 60 seconds; myNOOT – tiny

I hope the examples help. And now, some entertainment. Have a great day!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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