What are Homonyms?

What are Homonyms? – Introduction

what are homonyms - business english successThis post answers the question, “What are homonyms?” and gives some everyday examples.

In a previous post, we looked at English heteronym examples, in which the word meaning changed, based on how the word was pronounced.

We now look at how individual words can have different meanings, even when they are pronounced the same.


Homonym Definition

In a strict sense, a homonym is both a homograph (written the same way) and a homophone (pronounced the same way).

This is just a fancy way of saying that the word is spelt and spoken the same but will have different meanings, depending on the context.

Homonyms usually come in pairs but, as we shall see, some have more than two possibilities.


Homonym Examples – Different Verbs

These examples show different verbs.

  • Air – to ventilate | to broadcast
  • Bail – to release a prisoner | to remove water
  • Beat – to defeat | to strike repeatedly
  • Employ – to use (an item) | to give someone a job
  • Express – to squeeze out | to convey meaning
  • File – to store on a computer | to make a formal request
  • Lie – to tell an untruth | to recline
  • Stake – to gamble | to mark out an area

Homonym Examples – Different Nouns

These examples show different nouns.

  • Air – what we breathe | a short tune or melody | a manner
  • Atmosphere – gases surrounding the planet | mood
  • Band – a musical group | a ring
  • Bank – place to store money | the edge of a river
  • Bat – nocturnal flying mammal | stick used to hit a ball
  • Beat – musical unit | policeman’s route
  • Clip – something to hold objects in place | a container for bullets
  • Fly – an insect | opening in trousers
  • Jade – green ornamental stone | worn-out horse
  • Lark – a small bird | something that is fun
  • Mole – small underground mammal | a spy | a skin blemish
  • Plaque – unanted coating on the teeth | commerative plate
  • Pole – someone from Poland | a rod for a flag
  • Quarry – a mining site | hunted prey
  • Race – a division of mankind | a competition
  • Ring – band on a finger | a circular-shaped object
  • Stake – wooden post with a point at one end | sum of money gambled
  • Train – material attached to the back of a dress | connected carriages and/or wagons

Homonym Examples – Different Adjectives

These examples show different adjectives, in no particular order.

  • Bright – very intelligent | filled with light
  • Fair – treatment without favour | light-coloured hair | good weather
  • Light – not heavy | not dark

Homonym Examples – Nouns and Verbs

The following examples show how one word can mean both a noun and a verb. The noun is first, the verb is second.

  • Address – where someone lives | to speak to
  • Air – what we breathe | to ventilate
  • Arm – part of the body | to give a gun to
  • Bark – outer part of a tree | to sound like a dog
  • Beat – musical unit | to strike repeatedly
  • Brake – part of a car | to slow down
  • Clip – something to hold objects in place | to cut or trim
  • Die – a cube with 6 numbers | to stop living
  • Dive – an unpleasant place | to enter water head-first
  • Fly – an insect | to move through the air
  • Ground – the thing under our feet | to keep indoors as a punishment
  • Hide – skin of an animal | to conceal
  • Iron – a metal | to remove creases
  • Jade – green ornamental stone | to wear out by overwork
  • Light – as in sunlight | to illuminate
  • Match – something to light a fire | to find a similar item
  • Mean – numerical average | to intend
  • Miss – title for an unmarried woman | to fail to hit
  • Peer – person of same age and/or status | to look at something intensely
  • Pound – a unit of weight or currency | to strike repeatedly
  • Quarry – a mining site | to mine
  • Race – a competition | to compete
  • Ram – male sheep | to drive voilently into another vehicle
  • Ream – a block of paper | to widen a hole
  • Refrain – a repeated passage in music | to stop from doing
  • Right – legal entitlement | to set something upright
  • Ring – a band for a finger | to phone someone
  • Rock – a stone | what good musicians do
  • Rose – a flower | past form of to rise
  • Spring – a season, a coiled piece of wire | to jump
  • Stalk – part of a plant | to follow someone
  • Tender – the offer of money or services | to offer money or services
  • Train – connected carriages and/or wagons | to teach

Homonym Examples – Noun and Adjective

These examples show a word meaning a noun and an adjective – the noun is first.

  • Beat – policeman’s route | to feel exhausted
  • Current – flow of water or electricity | up-to-date
  • Fine – sum of money as a penalty | of high quality
  • Fly – an insect | cool, awesome
  • Grave – where to bury the dead | very serious
  • Ground – the thing under our feet | made smaller by crushing
  • Kind – group with similar characteristics | friendly in nature
  • Light – something used to illuminate | not heavy
  • Objective – the lens of a camera | unprejudiced
  • Right – opposite of left | correct
  • Well – a shaft sunk into the ground | healthy

What are Homonyms? – Summary

Homonyms can make life difficult for the language learner, as it isn’t always clear which meaning should be used.

As a learner, you often only know one meaning for the word. If you come across a word that makes no sense in the given context, it might be worth checking out alternative meanings – you might have discovered another homonym to add to your list.

Did this post makes you curious to know more? Check out this Wikipedia page.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the comments section to ask or tell.


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