What Are Homographs? | Definition & Examples
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What Is a Homograph?
Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, origins, or pronunciation.
Examples of Homographs
bass: a kind of fish/ a deep voice or tone
content: happy/ the subject of a book or speech
fine: money paid in penalty/ very good
Homographs in Sentences
Matt was content with his life. (happy and satisfied)
The book has some interesting content. (the articles contained in it)
Maya is perfectly fine now. (happy and healthy)
Dad paid a heavy fine for speeding. (money paid as a punishment for violating a rule)
As there are two or three different meanings and pronunciations at play in a homographic context, we need to use contextual clues to work out which pronunciation and meaning are appropriate.
John couldn't fly the kite, for there wasn't enough wind.
Mom asked me to wind a wire around the coil.
In the first sentence, "wind" is a noun meaning "a current of air". The contextual clue is "fly the kite". This "wind" is pronounced like "mint".
In the second sentence, "wind" is a verb meaning "to turn something around something". The contextual clue is "wire around the coil". This "wind" is pronounced like "kind".
Use of Homographs
Homographs serve a wide range of creative usages. They are mostly used in riddles and puns; they also come in handy while introducing ambiguity and revealing irony.
A pun is a humorous use of a word or phrase that has several meanings. Homographs make great tools of pun.
What is the difference between an engine driver and a teacher? The conductor minds trains, and the teacher trains minds.
The writer creates pun by using the words "mind" and "train" as both nouns and verbs.
Homographs Used for Ambiguity
In literature, homographs have traditionally been used to introduce ambiguity to the text and boost the literary effect.
Being heavy, I will bear the light. (Romeo and Juliet)
Romeo is using the homographs "heavy" and "light" to mean both emotional states (sad and happy respectively) and weights (hefty and thin respectively). He is also talking about a literal torch. So "light" here is a homograph with three meanings.
Homographs, Homophones, Homonyms
The word "graph" is connected to writing, so homographs mean words that are written alike but different in meanings.
desert: to leave/a dry region
After the war, a lot of people deserted the city. ("Desert" is used as a verb meaning "to leave".)
The explorers were lost in the desert for many days. ("Desert" is used as a noun meaning "a dry region".)
The word "phone" is connected with sound or pronunciation. So homophones are words that sound the same but differ in meanings.
tail: the tail of an animal, tale: a story
The dog wagged its tail. (the tail of animal)
Grandpa told us interesting tales about her childhood days. (a story)
Homonyms are the trickiest of all of these. The word "nym" means "name". There are three categories of words that can be called homonyms.
Homonyms - 1, 2, and 3
They may be identical in pronunciation but different in meanings or spellings.
to (preposition), too (very), two (number)
I want to study, This is too expensive, We are two sisters.
They may also be words that are identical in both spelling and pronunciation but different in meanings.
bank (the institution where people store money), bank (the bank of a river)
Where is the Central Bank? They played on the banks of the Mississippi River.
They may also be words spelled alike but different in meaning and pronunciation.
lead (to lead a team), lead (a grey heavy metal)
Garry will lead the team, The pipe was made of lead.
Click on the Circles to Spot the Six Homographs
Noun vs Verb Distinction in Homographs
An important thing to notice in homographs is their changing stress patterns. By identifying which part of speech the word belongs to (often a noun or verb), students can figure out the stressed syllable. If the word is used as a noun, the first syllable is stressed; if it's used as a verb, the stress shifts to the second syllable.
Contest (noun), Contest (verb)
It was a close contest.
Mr. Alex is not contesting this time.
Produce (noun), Produce (verb)
The produce was fresh and healthy.
America has produced many scientists.
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Bolster skills using our free printable Homograph Worksheets.