Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs

homophonesThey perplex us, confuse us, and make our heads spin. If you thought learning how to correctly spell words that sound alike was difficult, wait till you try to learn the terms for describing those words.

Homophones

Homophones are words that are pronounced alike but have different meanings.

Some examples are accept and except, affect and effect, and triplets too and to and two, along with they’re and their and there.

Homophones may also refer to words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but differ in meaning, for example lie (lie down) and lie (an untruth).

These words are a major source of frustration for many writers, students, and professionals who struggle to memorize variant spellings for words that sound alike but have different meanings. English teachers and other spelling perfectionists wince when homophones are written incorrectly.


Worst of all, spell check won’t catch the error when incorrect homophones are used because alternative spellings are legitimate.

Homonyms

And to confuse matters further, there are other words called homonyms, which are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings. Examples include words like stalk, which could refer to the stem of a plant (a stalk of corn), or the act pursuing or approaching prey (the cat stalked the mouse).

Another example of a homonym is lie — as in lie down or telling a lie (or untruth).

That’s right, some homophones can also be classified as homonyms – if they’re spelled the same.

Confused yet? Wait. There’s more.

Homographs

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. They may be pronounced the same or they could be pronounced differently from one another.

This means that some homographs are homophones and homonyms.

A good homograph example is record (a disc that plays audio) and record (to save or register something – in writing, audio, video, etc.).

How To Remember Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs

It’s not easy but it can be done. You can remember the difference (what difference there is) between homophones, homonyms, and homographs by breaking each word down and recalling the meaning of its root suffix and prefix. Also, try remembering each term separately to start, and don’t worry about which homophones are homonyms and which homonyms are homographs.

The root homo means “the same.” For all of these words something is the same – the spelling or the pronunciation.

  • Homophones sound alike. That’s the only rule and you can remember by the suffix phone, a word you can surely relate to sound. They may be spelled alike or not but they must sound alike.
  • Homonyms are spelled alike. Same name. Name = nym. Like the words “same” and “name” they also sound alike.
  • Homographs look alike (same spelling). Like graphs, they are visual. With the prefix homo, they are visually the same.

Easy enough? Sure it is!

Do you have your own tricks for remembering homophones, homonyms, and homographs? Do you find any of them especially confusing? Share your tips, ideas, and questions in the comments.

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

5 Responses to “Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs”

  1. MelodyJ says:

    When I was in elementary school we learned about synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. But when my brother wen to elementary school in a different district he learned about he learn about homophones. No one in the house had ever heard of them before. Any insight into why school systems teach this differently?

  2. Kelvin Kao says:

    I’ve heard of homophones before, but not the other two. I tend to just learn them separately. I don’t find homophones to be particularly confusing, since I think there are only so many sounds that we can make and it’s not a huge surprise for some words to have the same sound. As for homonyms and homographs, I tend to learn these words from different contexts as well. And I guess it’s a good thing that the parts of speech are often different so that it’s less confusing or ambiguous.

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