What is a Homonym

What is a Homonym

Homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation but different meanings. Some homonyms share the same spellings whereas some don’t. Before moving on to discuss more details about homonyms, let us first briefly look at other linguistic categories of words.

Homophones: words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings

Homograph: words that have the same spellings but different meanings.

Heteronyms: words that have the same spellings, but different pronunciation and meaning






same or different









same or different






You’ll note from the above definitions that homonyms contain qualities of both homophones (words having the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling) and homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation). Homonyms are simultaneously both homographs and homophones. The relationship between a set of homonyms is known as homonymy.

The relation between homonyms and other word categories can be closely observed from the diagram below.  The area between blue and green indicates homonyms.What is a Homonym

Examples of Homonyms

Homonyms that have the same spelling (homographs)

Bank (financial establishment/ river bank)

He was the president of the bank.

He went to the river bank.

Bear (animal/tolerate)

The bear came closer.

I can’t bear this anymore.

Fast (quick/ abstain from food)

Don’t drive fast.

Don’t break your fast.

Fair (reasonable/public gathering)

He is a fair judge.

We went to the country fair.

Homonyms that have different spelling (homophones)


He is very dear to me.

The lion chased a deer.


The root of the tree absorbs water and necessary nutrients.

They changed the route at the last minute.


The serf was punished by the feudal lord.

He loves to surf.


Pets are not allowed inside.

‘Watch out’ he shouted aloud.


She had straight black hair.

The Strait of Gibraltar is the entry point into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.


She came up the stairs.

She stares at him in amazement.


Don’t meddle in their affair.

She won a gold medal.

From the above examples, it becomes clear that a homonym can be either a homophone or a homograph.

Homonyms in Literature

Given below are some excerpts from literature where homonyms have been used.

Sole owner am I of this sorry soul

pour out corruption’s slag from every pore

whole slates scrape clean! they leave no gaping hole.

(Where Truth’s Wind Blew by Venicebard)


HAMLET: I will speak to this fellow.—Whose grave’s this, sirrah?


HAMLET: I think it be thine, indeed, for thou liest in ’t.

GRAVEDIGGER: You lie out on ’t, sir, and therefore it is not yours. For my part, I do not lie in ’t, and yet it is mine.

HAMLET: Thou dost lie in ’t, to be in ’t and say it is thine. ‘Tis for the dead, not for the quick. Therefore thou liest.

(Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

Homonym – Summary

  • Homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation but different meanings, regardless of their spelling.
  • Homonym can be either a homophone or a homograph.

Image Courtesy:

“Homograph homophone Venn diagram” by Homograph_homophone_venn_diagram.png: Will Heltsleyderivative   via

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