This post explores the nature of homonyms as a word class. A definition and examples are given before moving on to consider polysemy, homographs and homophones, which are all part of the same word class family.
Homonyms: what are they?
Pure homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings (denotation). For example:
- You can sit on the bank (noun) of a river and you can visit a bank (noun) to pay your bills.
- You might plant (verb) a tree and then buy some plants (noun) from the garden centre.
- You can have drive (adjective) or determination, and you can also drive (verb) to the office.
- You can fish (verb) all afternoon, but may never catch a fish (noun).
- A cat will stalk (verb) its prey, while a stalk (noun) is also part of a flower which connects it to the root.
Homonyms and Polysemy
Some words can be homonyms (identical spelling & pronunciation), and as their meanings are so closely related we refer to this as polysemy. For example:
- The root of a tooth, the root of a tree and the root of a problem.
- The head or a person, the head of a stream and the head of a department.
- The mouth of an animal and the mouth of a river.
- The foot of a child, the foot of a chair and the foot of a mountain.
- The branch of a tree and the branch of a bank.
Homographs: what are they?
Homographs are words that have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and meanings. For example:
- I need to go and buy two pints of milk.
- Their shoes are over there by the table.
- He wants a stable large enough for his four horses.
- Where should she go to buy a pair of new shoes to wear for the interview?
- Have you read that novel with the red cover?
Homophones: what are they?
Homophones are words that are have the same spelling, but different pronunciation and meaning. For example:
- I read the Guardian newspaper every morning, but yesterday I read the Independent.
- He missed the train because the mist was too thick to drive to the station.
- He shouted aloud that the protest should be allowed.
- Cats often pause to clean their paws.
- It’s hard to say whether there will be any change in the weather.