What are Homophone, Homograph, and Homonym?

From the numerous confusing sets of words, Homophone, Homograph, and Homonym are part of a unique set. This set is unique as each of its members cover a large number of other sets.

These words are not as confusing when you give it some thought, better yet understand how they came to be. They all have Greek roots, first part having come from “homos”, meaning “same”. Homophone comes from “homos”, and “phone”, meaning “voice”. Homograph comes from “homos”, and “grapho”, meaning “write”. Homonym comes from “homos”, and “onoma”, meaning “name”.

Homographs are words that have same spelling, but different meaning. Homophones are words or phrases that have same pronunciation, but different meaning. It should be noted that a Homograph may or may not be a Homophone, and vice versa.

Homophone is sometimes compared with Heterograph. Heterographs are words or group of words that have same pronunciation, but different spelling. In other words, Heterographs are Homophones, which are not Homographs. Homophone can also be applied to terms longer or shorter than a word, like phrases, letters, group of letters, etc.

Homograph is often compared with Heteronym. Heteronyms are words that have same spelling, but different pronunciation. In other words, Heteronyms are Homographs, which are not Homophones.

Homonym, as a word, is interesting as there are differences in opinions when it comes to the meaning of Homonym. On a stricter note, Homonyms are words that have same pronunciation and spelling, while having different meaning; or words that are both Homophones and Homographs. On a looser note, Homonyms are words that have either same pronunciation or same spelling or both, while having different meaning; or words that are either Homophones or Homographs or both.

These are often used to create puns or to suggest multiple meanings, their usage being common in Poetry and Creative Literature. These are also used in Speech Synthesis, Natural Language Processing, Psychological Research, etc.

Examples:

  • Homographs – Bass (deep), Bass (the fish);
  • Homophones – Example (illustration), Egg Sample (sample of egg);
  • Heteronyms – Bow (the knot), Bow (a sign of respect);
  • Heterographs – Desert (abandon), Dessert (a sweet dish);
  • Homonyms – Bat (the mammal), Bat (the sports equipment).
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5 thoughts on “What are Homophone, Homograph, and Homonym?”

  1. I love, love this English lesson reminder. Yet reading it was a bit like reciting a tongue twisting novella in my mind. Made me giggle. Thanks! I am bookmarking it for future reference. 😀

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