linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...

, homonyms are words which are
homograph A homograph (from the el, ὁμός, ''homós'', "same" and γράφω, ''gráphō'', "write") is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. However, some dictionaries insist that the words must also ...
s (words that share the same spelling, regardless of pronunciation), or
homophone A homophone () is a word that is Pronunciation, pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A ''homophone'' may also differ in spelling. The two words may be Spelling, spelled the same, for example ''rose'' ( ...
s ( equivocal words, that share the same pronunciation, regardless of spelling), or both. Using this definition, the words ''row'' (propel with oars), ''row'' (a linear arrangement) and ''row'' (an argument) are homonyms because they are homographs (though only the first two are homophones): so are the words ''see'' (vision) and ''sea'' (body of water), because they are homophones (though not homographs). A more restrictive and technical definition requires that homonyms be simultaneously homographs ''and'' homophoneshomonym
''Random House Unabridged Dictionary'' at dictionary.com
– that is to say they have identical spelling ''and'' pronunciation, but with different meanings. Examples are the pair ''stalk'' (part of a plant) and ''stalk'' (follow/harass a person) and the pair ''left'' (
past tense The past tense is a grammatical tense whose function is to place an action or situation in the past. Examples of verbs in the past tense include the English verbs ''sang'', ''went'' and ''washed''. Most languages have a past tense, with some hav ...
of leave) and ''left'' (opposite of right). A distinction is sometimes made between true homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as ''skate'' (glide on ice) and ''skate'' (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as ''mouth'' (of a river) and ''mouth'' (of an animal). The relationship between a set of homonyms is called homonymy, and the associated adjective is homonymous, homonymic, or in latin, equivocal. The adjective "homonymous" can additionally be used wherever two items share the same name, independent of how closely they are or are not related in terms of their meaning or etymology. For example, the name Ōkami is homonymous with the Japanese term for "wolf" (''ōkami'').


The word ''homonym'' comes from the
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
ὁμώνυμος (''homonymos''), meaning "having the same name", compounded from ὁμός (''homos'') 'common, same, similar' and ὄνομα (''onoma'') 'name'.

Related terms

Several similar linguistic concepts are related to homonymy. These include: *
Homograph A homograph (from the el, ὁμός, ''homós'', "same" and γράφω, ''gráphō'', "write") is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. However, some dictionaries insist that the words must also ...
s (literally "same writing") are usually defined as words that share the same spelling, regardless of how they are pronounced.Some sources restrict the term "homograph" to words that have the same spelling but ''different'' pronunciations. See, for example
''The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems'', p. 215
(Wiley-Blackwell, 1999) and ''The Encyclopædia Britannica (14th Edition)'' (entry for "homograph").
If they are pronounced the same then they are also
homophone A homophone () is a word that is Pronunciation, pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A ''homophone'' may also differ in spelling. The two words may be Spelling, spelled the same, for example ''rose'' ( ...
s (and homonyms) – for example, ''bark'' (the sound of a dog) and ''bark'' (the skin of a tree). If they are pronounced differently then they are also heteronyms – for example, ''bow'' (the front of a ship) and ''bow'' (a ranged weapon). *
Homophone A homophone () is a word that is Pronunciation, pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A ''homophone'' may also differ in spelling. The two words may be Spelling, spelled the same, for example ''rose'' ( ...
s (literally "same sound") are usually defined as words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.Some sources restrict the term "homophone" to words that have the same pronunciation but ''different'' spellings. See, for example
''The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems'', p. 202
(Wiley-Blackwell, 1999) and ''The Encyclopædia Britannica (14th Edition)'' (entry for "homograph").
If they are spelled the same then they are also homographs (and homonyms); if they are spelled differently then they are also heterographs (literally "different writing"). Homographic examples include ''rose'' (flower) and ''rose'' (past tense of ''rise''). Heterographic examples include ''to'', ''too'', ''two'', and ''there'', ''their'', ''they’re''. Due to their similar yet non-identical pronunciation in American English, ''ladder'' and ''latter'' do not qualify as homophones, but rather synophones. * Heteronyms (literally "different name") are the subset of homographs (words that share the same spelling) that have different pronunciations (and meanings).Some sources do not require that heteronyms have different pronunciations. See, for example, the archive
''Encarta'' dictionary entry
(which states that heteronyms "often" differ in pronunciation) and th

(which states that heteronyms "sometimes" have different pronunciations).
Such words include ''desert'' (to abandon) and ''desert'' (arid region); ''tear'' (to rip) and ''tear'' (a drop of moisture formed in one eye); ''row'' (to argue or an argument) and ''row'' (as in to row a boat or a row of seats – a pair of homophones). Heteronyms are also sometimes called heterophones (literally "different sound"). * Polysemes are words with the same spelling and distinct but ''related'' meanings. The distinction between polysemy and homonymy is often subtle and subjective, and not all sources consider polysemous words to be homonyms. Words such as ''mouth'', meaning either the orifice on one's face, or the opening of a
cave A cave or cavern is a natural void in the Earth#Surface, ground, specifically a space large enough for a human to enter. Caves often form by the weathering of rock and often extend deep underground. The word ''cave'' can refer to smaller opening ...

river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...

, are polysemous and may or may not be considered homonyms. *
Capitonym A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized; the capitalization usually applies due to one form being a proper noun or eponym. It is a portmanteau of the word ''capital'' with the suffix ''-o ...
s are words that share the same spelling but have different meanings when capitalized (and may or may not have different pronunciations). Such words include ''polish'' (make shiny) and '' Polish'' (from Poland); ''march'' (walk in step) and ''
March March is the third month of the year in both the Julian calendar, Julian and Gregorian calendars. It is the second of seven months to have a length of 31 days. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Meteorology, meteorological beginning of Spring (se ...

'' (the third month of the
Year A year or annus is the orbital period of a planetary body, for example, the Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. While large list of largest lakes and seas in the Sola ...
) and the pair: ''reading'' (using a book) and
Reading Reading is the process of taking in the sense or meaning of Letter (alphabet), letters, symbols, etc., especially by Visual perception, sight or Somatosensory system, touch. For educators and researchers, reading is a multifaceted process invo ...
(towns in, among other places,
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. It is separa ...


Further examples

A homonym which is both a homophone and a homograph is fluke, meaning: *A fish, and a
flatworm The flatworms, flat worms, Platyhelminthes, or platyhelminths (from the Greek language, Greek πλατύ, ''platy'', meaning "flat" and ἕλμινς (root: ἑλμινθ-), ''helminth-'', meaning "worm") are a Phylum (biology), phylum of relati ...

. *The end parts of an
anchor An anchor is a device, normally made of metal , used to secure a Watercraft, vessel to the Seabed, bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to Leeway, wind or Ocean current, current. The word derives from Latin ''ancora' ...

. *The fins on a
whale Whales are a widely distributed and diverse group of fully Aquatic ecosystem, aquatic placental mammal, placental marine mammals. As an informal and Colloquialism, colloquial grouping, they correspond to large members of the infraorder Ce ...

's tail. *A stroke of
luck Luck is the phenomenon and belief that defines the experience of improbable events, especially improbably positive or negative ones. The Naturalism (philosophy), naturalistic interpretation is that positive and negative events may happen at an ...

. These meanings represent at least three etymologically separate
lexeme A lexeme () is a unit of lexical semantics, lexical meaning that underlies a set of words that are related through inflection. It is a basic abstract unit of meaning, a emic unit, unit of Morphology (linguistics), morphological Semantic analysis ...
s, but share the one form, fluke.* Note that fluke is also a capitonym, in that Fluke Corporation (commonly referred to as simply "Fluke") is a manufacturer of industrial testing equipment. Similarly, a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in the game of pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning. The words bow and bough are examples where there are two meanings associated with a single pronunciation and spelling (the weapon and the knot); two meanings with two different pronunciations (the knot and the act of bending at the waist), and two distinct meanings sharing the same sound but different spellings (bow, the act of bending at the waist, and bough, the branch of a tree). In addition, it has several related but distinct meanings – a bent line is sometimes called a 'bowed' line, reflecting its similarity to the weapon. Even according to the most restrictive definitions, various pairs of sounds and meanings of bow, Bow and bough are homonyms, homographs, homophones, heteronyms, heterographs, capitonyms and are polysemous. *bow – a long stick with horse hair that is used to play certain
string instrument String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner. Musicians play some string instruments by plucking the ...

string instrument
s such as the
violin The violin, sometimes known as a '' fiddle'', is a wooden chordophone (string instrument) in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and thus highest-pitched instrument ( soprano) in the family in regul ...

*bow – to bend forward at the waist in respect (e.g. "bow down") *bow – the front of the ship (e.g. "bow and stern") *bow – a kind of tied ribbon (e.g. bow on a present, a bowtie) *bow – to bend outward at the sides (e.g. a "bow-legged" cowboy) * Bow – a district in
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...

*bow – a weapon to shoot projectiles with (e.g. a bow and arrow) A lime can refer to a
fruit In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants that is formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants (also known as angiosperms) disseminate their seeds. Edible fruits in particul ...
or a
material Material is a matter, substance or mixture of substances that constitutes an Physical object, object. Materials can be pure or impure, living or non-living matter. Materials can be classified on the basis of their physical property, physical an ...
. A mold (mould) can refer to a
fungus A fungus (plural, : fungi or funguses) is any member of the group of Eukaryote, eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and Mold (fungus), molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. These organisms are classified ...

or an industrial cast. The words ''there'', ''their'', and ''they're'' are examples of three words that are of a singular pronunciation, have different spellings and vastly different meanings. These three words are commonly misused (or, alternatively, misspelled). *there – "The bow shot the arrow there," he said as he pointed. *their – "It was their bow and arrow." the Mother said. *they're – They're not going to get to shoot the bow again after puncturing the tire (tyre) on Daddy's car. ( Contraction of They and Are.) The words metal and mettle are polysemes and homophones, but not homographs.

Homonyms in historical linguistics

Homonymy can lead to communicative conflicts and thus trigger lexical ( onomasiological) change.On this phenomenon see Williams, Edna R. (1944), ''The Conflict of Homonyms in English'', ale Studies in English 100 New Haven: Yale University Press, Grzega, Joachim (2004), ''Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen und allgemeinen Onomasiologie'', Heidelberg: Winter, p. 216ff., and Grzega, Joachim (2001d), “Über Homonymenkonflikt als Auslöser von Wortuntergang”, in: Grzega, Joachim (2001c), ''Sprachwissenschaft ohne Fachchinesisch: 7 aktuelle Studien für alle Sprachinteressierten'', Aachen: Shaker, p. 81-98. This is known as ''homonymic conflict''. This leads to a species of
informal fallacy Informal fallacies are a type of incorrect argument in natural language. The source of the error is not just due to the ''form'' of the argument, as is the case for formal fallacies, but can also be due to their ''content'' and ''context''. Fall ...
of thought and argument called by the latin name
equivocation In logic, equivocation ("calling two different things by the same name") is an informal fallacy resulting from the use of a particular word/expression in multiple word sense, senses within an argument. It is a type of semantic ambiguity, ambiguit ...

See also

False friend In linguistics, a false friend is either of two words in different languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. Examples include English language, English ''embarrassed'' and Spanish language, Spanish ''embarazad ...
s, words from different languages that appear similar but differ in meaning *
Synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase In syntax and grammar, a phrase is a group of words or singular word acting as a grammatical unit. For instance, the English language, English expression "the very happy squirrel" is a noun phrase whi ...
s, different words with identical or very similar meanings (conceptual inversion of "homonym") *
Riddle A riddle is a statement, question A question is an utterance which serves as a request for information. Questions are sometimes distinguished from interrogatives, which are the grammatical forms typically used to express them. Rhetorical ...
Word play Word play or wordplay (also: play-on-words) is a literary technique and a form of wit in which words used become the main subject of the work, primarily for the purpose of intended effect or amusement. Examples of word play include puns, phonet ...



Further reading

* * * * {{Authority control Types of words