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Homophones, homographs, and homonyms

  • Homophones, homographs, and homonyms are different categories of words that many find confusing. We will define homophones, homographs, and homonyms, discuss the etymology of these words and look at some examples of homophones, homographs, and homonyms in sentences.


     

    Homophones are two words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language, and are a challenge for those who wish to learn to speak English. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Proper pronunciation of spoken English may help the listener distinguish between homophones; the words affect-effect are a good example. However, pronunciation is usually more ambiguous, as English pronunciation may vary according to dialect, and English spelling is constantly evolving. Pronunciation may change even though the spelling doesn’t, producing two words that are pronounced in the same manner but have different meanings such as night and knight. English words are also spelled according to their etymologies rather than their sound. For instance, the word threw is derived from the Old English word thrawan, and the word through came from the Old English word thurh. Homophones are confusing words and are commonly misspelled words because of the confusion that arises from words that are pronounced alike but have very different usage and etymology. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake. Even a participant in a spelling bee will ask for an example of a homophone in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Some examples of homophones used in sentences:

    I can see one hundred miles.

    My true love has gone to sea.

    The school children sat in rows at the assembly.

    My true love gave me a single, perfect rose.

    Homographs are two words that are spelled the same way but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. Homographs are generally words that have different etymologies, though the spelling is the same. Some examples of homographs:

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    I caught a bass at Lovelorn Lake.

    My father had a beautiful bass singing voice.

    We dressed the wound to stop the bleeding.

    We wound the clock so that it would keep ticking.

    Homonyms are two words that have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have different meanings. Homonyms are also generally derived from different sources, and have different etymologies. Some examples of homonyms used in sentences:

    I enjoy working in the garden in the spring.

    It’s time to spring into action.

    Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook.

    The winter storm caused the ship to founder.

    Homophone, homograph, and homonym all start with the Greek word homos, which means same. The suffix -phone in the word homophone means sound. The suffix -graph in the word homograph means something that is written. The suffix -onym in the word homonym means name.


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