Homophones and Homonyms

(Explained and Demonstrated)

More and More Confusion with Language Usage

Dictionaries differ in their definitions of homographs, homonyms, and homophones which are closely related terms, some of them giving homonym and homophone as synonymous. This is considered a needless source of confusion, especially since the distinctions can be clearly analyzed from the derivations of the respective words.

First, homographs are words that are spelled alike but pronounced differently. Examples would be tear, as in crying tears and tear, as in tearing paper.

Second, homonyms are words that are spelled alike and sound alike but, because they have different origins, have different meanings. Bear, the animal, and bear, to carry, are homonyms.

Third, homophones are words that are not spelled alike but have the same sound. Peace and piece are homophones.

A well-known nursery rhyme gives us an example of homophones exaggerated:

“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?
No, he was a bare bear!”

Homophones-Homonyms in Action

A pretty deer is dear to me,
A hare with downy hair,
A hart I love with all my heart,
But I can barely bear a bear

‘Tis plain that no one takes a plane
To get a pair of pears,
Although a rake may take a rake
To tear away the tares.

Beer often brings a bier to man,
Coughing a coffin brings,
And too much ale will make us ail,
As well as other things.

Quails do not quail before a storm,
A bough will bow before it;
We can not rein the rain at all,
No earthly power reigns o’er it.

‘Tis meet that man should mete out meat
To feed one’s sunny son;
The fair should fare on love alone,
Else one can not be won.

I would a story here commence,
But you might think it stale;
So we’ll suppose that we have reached
The tail end of our tale.

From "Beauties of Orthography"; Little Book of word Tricks,
Peter Pauper Press, Mount Vernon, New York, 1958, pages 36-37.


Wood you believe that I didn't no
About homophones until too daze ago?
That day in hour class in groups of for,
We had to come up with won or more.

Mary new six; enough to pass,
But my ate homophones lead the class.
Then a thought ran threw my head,
"Urn a living from homophones," it said.

I guess I just sat and staired into space.
My hole life seamed to fall into place.
Our school's principle happened to come buy,
And asked about the look in my I.

"Sir," said I as bowled as could bee,
"My future roll I clearly sea."
"Sun," said he, "move write ahead,
Set sail on your coarse. Don't be mislead."

I herd that gnus with grate delight.
I will study homophones both day and knight.
For weaks and months, through thick oar thin,
I'll pursue my goal. Eye no aisle win.

—George E. Coon; from The Reading Teacher; April, 1976;
re-printed in The Encyclopedia of Homonyms by Dora Newhouse; Newhouse Press;
Los Angeles, California, 1976; page 3.

Another page about Homonyms, Homographs, and Homophones.

Unit of homo-, hom- words.

Confusing Words: Units, Groups A to Y.