Homonyms, Homographs, Homophones: The Naughty Grammarian Explains

Updated on February 20, 2018
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano, aka "The Naughty Grammarian," has had her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry published in books and periodicals.

The Homonym

Mistakes with homonyms are distressingly common. Even the term “homonym” is almost always used incorrectly.

Understanding all the terminology surrounding homonyms can be tricky. Avoiding the misuse of homonyms is simple. Pay attention!

Homonyms are Like Twins

Homonyms are like twins--they may look alike and/or sound alike, but they are not the same. .
Homonyms are like twins--they may look alike and/or sound alike, but they are not the same. . | Source

What are the different kinds of homonyms?

The word “homonym” came into the English language from two Greek words:homos which means “same” and onuma which means name.

Do you think that you know the meaning of the word homonym? It is Miss Grammers sad duty to inform you that you have probably been misusing this word. Miss Grammers will set the record straight, but it will probably be to no avail. The misuse of the word is too firmly ingrained.

Homonym describes two or more words that are BOTH homographs and homophones. Miss Grammers wishes to emphasize “both.”

Homograph describes words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings. They may or may not have different pronunciations.

If a homograph does have a different pronunciation, it is called a heteronym.

Homophone describes two or more words that are pronounced the same, but have different meanings. They may or may not have different spellings.

If a homophone does have different a spelling, it is referred to as a heterograph.

Miss Grammers knows this is all very confusing. There are even more variations on this theme, but Miss Grammers will not torment you by including them.

Miss Grammers hopes that the chart below will help you understand the nuances of these terms. Remember each of these terms refer to words with different meanings, but which are spelled and/or pronounced the same.

Homonyms Defined

TERM
SUBSET OF
SPELLING
PRONUNCIATION
Homonym
_____
Same
Same
Homograph
Homonym
Same
Either
Heteronym
Homograph
Same
Different
Homophone
Homonym
Either
Same
Heterograph
Homophone
Different
Same
Keep in mind. The prefix "homo" means same and the prefix "hetero" means different.

Homographs

Homographs are words that look alike, but may or may not sound alike.
Homographs are words that look alike, but may or may not sound alike. | Source

What are examples of homographs—spelled-alike words?

Homographs are words with different meanings that are spelled the same. If they are also pronounced the same, they are also homophones and homonyms. It is possible for a word to be all three.

For example, the word “bark” can mean the sound a dog makes or the outing layer of a tree.

“Don’t worry,” Melanie said with a smile. "My bark is worse than my bite.”

When Melanie got angry, her fiery eyes could burn the bark off a tree.

Heteronyms are a type of homograph—they are words with different meanings that are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently.

For example, the word “lead” can mean to move ahead of followers or it can mean the metal that is shown on the periodic table of elements with the symbol "Pb"— different meanings, same spelling, different pronunciations.

Melanie decided to take the lead in her relationship with Doug.

Melanie was so shocked, her skin took on the ash-grey color of lead.

Another example of a homograph that is also a homonym and a heteronym is “desert”— it means to leave one’s post or, if pronounced differently, an arid, sandy location.

Melanie said, “I won’t desert you in your time of need.”

Melanie wept. “Without Doug’s love, I feel like I’m in an emotional desert.”

Note: Don't confuse "desert" with its homophone, "dessert." (Remember that "dessert" has a double "s", by associating it with "sweet sugar."

Homophones

Homophones are words that sound alike, but may or may not be spelled alike.
Homophones are words that sound alike, but may or may not be spelled alike. | Source

What are examples of homophones—sound-alike words?

Homophones are words with different meanings that sound the same.

For instance, lead and led can be pronounced the same. When these words are spoken, we must determine the meaning and spelling from the context.

For example, the word “lead” can mean the metal or is can mean “led” --the past tense of the verb “to lead.”

Melanie was so shocked, her skin took on the ash-grey color of lead.

Melanie led Doug on a merry chase.

“Bow” is a homophone with the spelling unchanged. “Bow” means a knot with two loops or it can also mean the archer’s weapon as in “bow and arrow” or the rod drawn across the strings of a violin. In each case, it is spelled the same, pronounced the same, but has different meanings. Because “bow“ is spelled the same, it is also a homograph.

Melanie decorated her Christmas gift to Doug with a big red bow.

Her gift was a statue of Cupid holding a bow and arrow.

“Bow” is a homophone when it means to bend at the waist or it refers to the front end of the ship, and it is pronounced with a long "o" (as in bough) “Bough,” which means the branch of a tree, is also a homophone and a heterograph because the words are pronounced the same,but are spelled differently.

“Your wish is my command,” Doug said with a deep bow.

“There is no mistletoe, but will this bough of holly do?”

Mixed-Up Homophones

Don't use a sound-alike word for the correct word.
Don't use a sound-alike word for the correct word. | Source

What are the most commonly misused homophones?

Miss Grammers will begin this section with a little joke; What do you say to a grammarian who is upset. Answer: There, Their, They’re.

it is the hertographs that cause problems for writers. They sound the same, but are spelled differently. “There,” “their,” and” they’re” are commonly used in error. They are homophones and herterographs because they are pronounced the same, but spelled differently. The error is not usually due to a misunderstanding of the meanings of these words. The error is usually due to carelessness.

Other homophones/heterographs commonly used in error are your/you’re, to/two/too, and for/four/fore.

And for reasons that are beyond Miss Grammers’ comprehension, the words, “cite”, “site”, and “sight” are often misused. Please remember that “cite” is related to citation, “site” is related to a location, and “sight” is related to the word “see.”

Melanie could cite many occasions when Linda had betrayed her.

Melanie chose the site for her honeymoon. She posted it to her wedding website.

At the end of the camping trip, Melanie looked a sight.

This book is unbearably cute.

How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?: What Are Homonyms and Homophones? (Words are Categorical)
How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?: What Are Homonyms and Homophones? (Words are Categorical)

This book is designed for ages 6 and up. The book is lots of fun and it gets the children started on good grammar habits while they are young. It's available as a paperback, as a hardcover, and for kindle.

 

One last pet peeve: “I seen it.”

Since Miss Grammers is already feeling very cranky after her bout with homonyms, she might as well get this one off her chest. The following rant has nothing to do with homonyms, unless you coutn the fact that "see" and "sea" are homophones and heterographs.

Who are these people who are going around saying “I seen it” and will they please stop? “’Seen” always requires the use of the word “have” or “had.” The conjugation is “I see,” I saw, I have seen, I had seen.”

“I seen” is never correct and Miss Grammers never wants to hear it again.

There! Miss Grammers has said it and she feels better for it.

CLICK HERE to see the complete conjugation of "to see."

Miss Grammers

Miss Grammers is tireless and dedicated to helping others with grammar and word usage.
Miss Grammers is tireless and dedicated to helping others with grammar and word usage. | Source

Who is Miss Grammers?

Miss Grammers regularly posts to her website to cite violations of grammatical rules found in plain sight. There are times Miss Grammers would like to to take the offenders and wring their necks. They’re a disgrace.

But you’re safe from Miss Grammers’ wrath today, and all your careless mistakes are forgiven. Miss Grammers is in too good a mood to chastise you for a careless error or two.

Miss Grammers wants you to know that she is much more than just the grammar police. She’s a woman who can enjoy a night off from her duties to kick back and have fun. She is going to do that right now because her work is finally done for today.

.Tell the truth, now.

How often do you use the wrong heterograph in your writing?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Catherine Giordano

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 months ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Virginia. I'm glad you liked it. I wrote it in order to set myself straight.

      • Virginia Allain profile image

        Virginia Allain 

        3 months ago from Central Florida

        Good work trying to set people straight!

      • The Examiner-1 profile image

        The Examiner-1 

        3 years ago

        That is why I do the final proofreading myself Catherine. I do not trust them.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Kevin: Spell checkers help, but they can't do everything. They won't catch homophones. Lately I find my first drafts are filled with homophone errors.

      • The Examiner-1 profile image

        The Examiner-1 

        3 years ago

        I cannot believe it myself but it is often. There are so many times I have been reading and there it is. The thing is, it is not just once. It is more than once in the same article, by different people. That is why I do not trust spell checkers.

        Kevin

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Kevin, thank you so much for voting up and sharing. I think I once knew about homophones and homographs but had forgotten it until I started doing research for this piece.

        I don't understand your P.S. The word "I" should always be capitalized.

      • The Examiner-1 profile image

        The Examiner-1 

        3 years ago

        Thanks Catherine this has been very helpul since I have heard of homonyms but not the other two. I bookmarked this into a special section I started when I read this. I voted this up, shared, pinned and Tweeted it.

        Kevin

        P.S - I have read so many Hubs where "I" is capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, in the sentence it may or may not be.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Homophones can trip even those of us who grew up speaking English. It absolutely has to be even more confusing for people who speak English as a second language. Thanks for your comment Writer Fox.

      • Writer Fox profile image

        Writer Fox 

        3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

        You've provided some excellent points, especially appropriate for people who speak English as a second language.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Sue Adams:Thank you for adding some new information to this hub. I think I kinda knew that English was shortest. You can see it whenever you read the instructions for your new appliance and they are repeated in five languages. I did not know children prefer English. I guess I was lucky to be born into an English speaking country.

      • Sue Adams profile image

        Juliette Kando FI Chor 

        3 years ago from Andalusia

        I love this. Did you know that the same text written in different languages always turns out the shortest (least number of words) in the English language? And also, multilingual children always prefer to speak English, even if it is not their mother tongue.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Jodah. It's an important distinction--homophone and homophobe. Glad you enjoyed the grammar lesson. I try to make them fun and interesting. We all need a refresher course sometimes. Especially me.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        3 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Great grammar lesson Catherine. I just wrote a detailed comment here but accidentally deleted it and I don't want to go through the whole process again. I know how to use these correctly but even after reading this will get the definitions of what is what mixed up...still at least I can differentiate between 'homophone" and homophobe" :) Voted up.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Carrie, I too have found myself making stupid homophone mistakes lately. I recently wrote hear when I meant here. There's no excuse for that one. I can understand hanger/hangar because they are words not frequently used. The only remedy is careful editing. Thanks for commenting. Happy New Year.

      • carrie Lee Night profile image

        Carrie Lee Night 

        3 years ago from Northeast United States

        Awesome ! :) Grammar was never my strong point and I am still learning :) Thank you for pointing it out. I made the mistake of misspelling hanger as pertaining to an airplane. I found this error after a hub was already published and fixed it. Hangar was the correct one :) Have a great New Year! :)

      • Iris Draak profile image

        Cristen Iris 

        3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        Hahahaha!!! Or would it be course? :)

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Iris: I'm going to give you a bare hug. No, that would be coarse. I mean bear hug, virtual of course. :) I hope you are having a great holiday weekend.

      • Iris Draak profile image

        Cristen Iris 

        3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        You truly make the writer's world bareable, no wait, bearable. Yeah, that's it. :)

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        The Naughty Grammarian is so pleased to learn that you look forward to her postings on grammar and word usage. Please let me know if there is anything in particular you would like her to write about, and I will forward your request to her.

      • Wendi Gjata profile image

        Wendi Gjata 

        3 years ago from Hialeah-Florida

        I love this series! Can't wait for more!

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thank you, Ann. It is especially heart-warming when a teacher commends my work on these grammar hubs. Your tip for remembering the difference between homographs and homophones is a great one.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        3 years ago from SW England

        This is great. I must confess I can never remember what the definition of homonym is but the rest are fine.

        I used to teach my dyslexic students the difference between homograph and homophone by telling them that 'graph' is an image, therefore homographs look the same, and that a 'phoneme' is a sound made by one or more letters, therefore homophones sound the same. We had great fun with those!

        I think that hubbers reading this probably are the ones who least need the lesson but hopefully others will read it too and learn it well.

        Great hub, Catherine.

        Ann

      • m abdullah javed profile image

        muhammad abdullah javed 

        3 years ago

        No Catherine mam its your kind gesture, the fact is that you have honored us by reminding the invaluable things. Thanks for the kind words.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        m Abdullah: Thanks for voting up and commenting. I bet the ones reading this grammar lesson, like you, are the ones who least need it.

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Purvis: Thanks for reading and commenting. Coal in the stocking for anyone who says "I seen it."

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        MsDora: I'm glad to be of service. A little secret, between you and me. I didn't know these words either until I started doing research. I thought this was going to be a quick and easy hub. Just tell people to be careful and then give a list of homonyns. Instead it was real hard work sorting this all out and then finding a way to make it easy for others to understand.

      • m abdullah javed profile image

        muhammad abdullah javed 

        3 years ago

        Catherine I make you my teacher for this wonderful lessons. Thanks a lot mam. Voted up.

      • PurvisBobbi44 profile image

        PurvisBobbi44 

        3 years ago from Florida

        Hi,

        Thanks, a very well written and needed hub---a great reminder to some, especially the "I seen it" group.

        I am sure we can all benefits from reading your hub and thanks.

        Bobbi Purvis

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        3 years ago from The Caribbean

        Thank you for sounding off on that last pet peeve. I hate it too. This was also a vocabulary lesson for me. My new word is "heterographs."

      • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

        Catherine Giordano 

        3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks for your comment. I posted this on Sunday night. I hope people will get around to reading it even tho it is the busy holiday season because if I do say so myself, it is excellent. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        3 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Excellent lessons, and it's a shame nobody has read them. Well done, Catherine. I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)