Homonyms: prevent shampooing your hare, we found this humerus
Homonyms: prevent shampooing your hare!

Homonyms Galore, we found this humerus

The English language is bursting with homonyms: words that are spelled and pronounced the same way but have different meanings. It can get a tad confusing at times if you’re new to English [as a foreign language], but it usually helps when one understands the context the homonym is in to differentiate it. Trying to think of a homonym on the spot can be frustrating.

Here’s a few to get you started…

  • Patient: A doctor likes to have a patient patient
  • Crisp:I like to eat a crisp crisp!
  • Polish: I use Polish polish for my shoes
  • Mass: The pope said mass to a lot mass of people yesterday. It was a mass mass.

Not just a homonym but rather, a capitonym!

You have probably come across this one before: telling the difference between Polish and polish. I’ve seen many ads in newspapers and magazines use it as a punchline. Although it’s only comical when it’s written or typed out. If you were to pronounce the two words […] the difference is clear. We’re here to talk about homonyms but Polish / polish isn’t a true homonym. Rather, it is a capitonym. That is, a word that shares the same spelling but has a different meaning when it’s capitalised. March / march is another popular capitonym.

Here are some that’ll refresh your memory, as we’re sure you know many more.

  • change
  • book
  • match
  • cool
  • duck
  • block
  • light

These words are known to be true homonyms as they share the exact same spelling and pronunciation, and their meanings differentiate regardless of capitalization.

Then There’s Bark

Bark (the skin of a tree) and bark (the sound a dog makes) are both homonyms (same but different meanings), homophones (sound alike) and homographs (spelled the same). Unlike rain and reign which are known as just homophones, not homonyms. It helps if you take the combining form -phone in homophone, meaning sound or voice in Greek. While the combining form -graph in homograph means written or in writing.

Some familiar homophones are…

  • sail / sale
  • flee / flea
  • be / bee
  • bear / bare
  • know / no
  • buy / by
  • toe / tow

Wait! There’s More

What about those kind of words that are spelled the same way but have a different pronunciation and meaning? Think of bass (meaning both a fish and denoting a sound with a low pitch)? Or how about desert (to abandon or an arid region)?

We call these guys heteronyms or heterophones. We’ve put together a list of common heteronyms for you to have some fun with.

  • dove (A dove flew past my window) / (I dove into the sea)

Can you work out the rest?

  • ellipses
  • sake
  • resign
  • read
  • putting
  • present
  • record
  • wind
  • row
  • bow

Can you guess the meanings of each of them?