Encyclopedia > Homonym

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Homonyms are words that sound the same, but have a different meaning. Homonyms may or may not differ in spelling. Generally the context will make it clear which one is meant.

There is a fish called a fluke, a part of a whale called a fluke and a stroke of luck called a fluke, but these are three separate words with separate etymologies that all happen to be spelled the same way. Similarly, a river bank, a savings bank, and a bank of switches share only a spelling.

Other homonyms may sound the same or similar, but are spelled differently. This form of homonym is sometimes called a homophone. The first homonyms we ever learn are probably to, too and two, but the sentence "Too much to do in two days" would confuse no one. Also familiar are there, their, and they're.

Some words are homonyms for some speakers, but not for others, such as pin and pen, which are "correctly" pronounced differently, but not by all speakers.

There are also homographs, words spelled the same but pronounced differently, like lead the metal and lead the verb, or moped the motorized bicycle and moped the past tense of mope.

In derivation, homonym means "has the same name"; homophone means "has the same sound"; homograph means "written the same".

Homonyms are mostly curiosities, of limited linguistic interest compared to the strong functional roles of antonyms and synonyms. See pun, however. See also polysemy for a closely related idea.

Common errors due to homonym in English language

  • cache, cash
  • accept, except
  • their, there
  • know, now


His death, which happen'd in his berth,
At forty-odd befell:
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton toll'd the bell
Thomas Hood, "Faithless Sally Brown"

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