Smart Grammar: What are Homonyms?

What’s up, grammar geeks! We’re kicking off a new series on our blog called Smart Grammar, and we have a question for you: Do you know what a homonym is?

According to Dictionary.com, homonyms are words that are pronounced the same but different in meaning. Two of the most recognizable examples are bare versus bear and male versus mail.

The Two Types of Homonyms

Did you also know that they are two types of homonyms? Think of them as subcategories. Homonyms can be either homographs or homophones, and there’s a distinct difference between them.

Homographs

Homographs are words that share the same spelling but have different meanings. For example:

  • Bat (the animal) versus bat (a piece of sporting equipment)
  • Can (“I can do it”) versus can (a can of soup)
  • Console (like a computer console) versus console (the act of consoling)
  • Evening (the act of evening something) versus evening (after sunset)
  • Gay (happiness) versus gay (sexual orientation)
  • Novel (a type of book or story) versus novel (like a novel idea)
  • Phone (like your cell phone) versus phone (the act of calling)
  • Rebel (the act of rebelling) versus rebel (a person who rebels or is a rebel)
  • Row (the act of rowing a boat) versus row (the opposite of a column)
  • Wave (in the sea) versus wave (a hand movement)

The beauty of homographs is that you can’t go wrong with using the wrong word in the wrong place because a wave is a wave is a wave whereas being bare isn’t a bear (or maybe it is if you’d rather not dawn your birthday suit)!

Homophones

Homophones are homonyms with the same sound but different spellings and meanings. These are the words that make writers, readers, and students go cross-eyed and crazy. Here’s just a small sampling of the most common homophones in the English language:

  • Add, ad
  • Ate, eight
  • Ant, aunt
  • Blue, blew
  • By, buy, bye
  • Cell, sell
  • Dear, deer
  • Knot, not
  • Know, no
  • Or, oar
  • Principal, principle
  • See, sea
  • Sew, so, sow
  • Stationary, stationery
  • Their, there, they’re
  • Too, two, to
  • Weight, wait

When it comes to grammar and spelling, homophones give writers the most trouble. They’re easy to misspell, especially words like the notorious to verses too and their versus there. It’s tough for auto-check programs to catch these misspellings because the context of the sentence or paragraph determines which word is correct, and sometimes auto-check suggests the wrong homophone.

In other cases, we breeze over these words without thinking when proofreading. And then there are those times when we stop. We stare. We question. We Google. And finally, we debate on replacing the word with something else entirely because we’re so damn confused!

Watch Smart Grammar LIVE

Any writer can catch grief from homonyms. While these tricky words can be caught and corrected during the writing and proofreading processes, the key to success is knowing which word to use when. And that’s what the Smart Grammar series will cover first.

We’re about to dive into a weekly discussion of homophones, and we’ll start with some of the most confusing. You can tune in for these discussions live via Facebook every Friday at 8:30 PM EST / 5:30 PM Pacific. Be sure to like and follow our page so you don’t miss a live video.

First up; we’re going to cover bear versus bare next week. So stay tuned!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Well today I learned something new. Thank you! 😊 Also, hello from another Lovett; I don’t see that name often!

    Like

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