Homonyms, Homographs & Homophones: Making Sense of Similar Words

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Today, we’re going to be taking a look at homonyms.

Before we dive any deeper, let’s talk about the history of the word, which has its origins in Greek. “Homonym” comes from two Greek words:

1. Homos, which means “same.”

2. Onoma, which means “name.”

When you combine these two Greek words, you get “homonym,” which essentially means “same name.”

In linguistic terms, homonyms are words that share the same “name” in the sense that they look or sound alike, even though they may represent entirely different concepts or ideas.

 In the English language, homonyms can be categorised as either:

  • Homographs (from homos, “same”, and grapho, “write”) — words that have the same spelling (e.g. “object”, which can be either a noun that refers to things that can be seen and touched but is not alive, or a verb that means to disagree or oppose something), or;

  • Homophones (from homos, “same”, and phone, “voice, sound”) — words that have the same pronunciation (e.g. “flower” and “flour”).

Words that have both identical pronunciations and identical spellings but different meanings, such as “bat” (referring to a flying mammal or sports equipment), are also called homonyms.

In speaking, reading, and writing, recognising homonyms is crucial for understanding the intended meaning of a sentence. Misinterpreting and mispronouncing homonyms can lead to confusion!

Watch the video below for more examples of homonyms, homographs and homophones, and then try the quiz at the end to test your knowledge!

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

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We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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