Posted by Grant Richardson, 10th August, 2015
A homonym is a word that has the same pronunciation and spelling as another word (with a different meaning).
A homophone is a word that has the same pronunciation but different spelling as another word (with a different meaning).
light: 1. a device that you switch on to see in the dark
light: 2. the opposite of heavy
blue: 1. the colour blue
blue: 2. the emotion blue (=sad)
mouse: 1. a small animal
mouse: 2. a device used to control the curser on a computer
two, too, to
their, there, they’re
wear, ware, we’re
Common pronunciation mistakes
You’re sounds identical to your. I’m often correcting students who pronounce it incorrectly as “you are” when reading it.
Also, they’re is pronounced the same as their and there. It is not pronounced “they are“.
Likewise, we’re is pronounced the same as wear, not “we are”.
When pronounced correctly in a sentence, it is usually clear which word is being said.
Common spelling mistakes
Because the words sound the same, you sometimes see them spelled incorrectly by native speakers who have poor spelling.
For example, you might see comments such as the following on YouTube:
Your an idiot, there not playing pool, there playing snooker!
And then, someone reply:
You’re the idiot. You don’t know how to spell they’re properly.
Puns (jokes using some form of homonym or homophone)
Homonyms or homophones are often used in jokes, where the two different meanings have relevance in the same situation. These jokes are a type of pun (or a “play on words”).
Puns are often found on TV, in newspapers, and in all kinds of movies (not only comedies).
In the comedy movie “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”, Dr. Evil creates a pun with the word caliber, to express his delight from watching a demonstration of attractive female robots shoot bullets from their breasts to kill their target.
To understand the joke, you need to understand both meanings of the word caliber:
1. caliber (noun): degree of excellence, quality, or importance.
Initech Limited is currently searching for the high caliber talents to join our professional team
2. caliber (noun): the diameter of a gun barrel, usually expressed in hundredths or thousandths of an inch and typically written as a decimal fraction.
He was shot by a .32 caliber pistol
What other homonyms or homophones do you know? Have you ever tried punning? Are you a punmaster?