Homonyms vs. Homophones vs. Homographs

  malza  —  Grammar Tips
Homonyms vs. Homophones vs. Homographs

The most frequently confused words in English are used wrongly mainly because they are very identical. It might be that they are spelled similarly, they are pronounced almost identically or they have multiple meanings according to the phrase or American/British context in which they are used.

But all these similarities are actually defined in the English grammar as homonyms, homophones and homographs. Their multitude and definitions can be quite overwhelming, but knowing how the similarity between words is called and how it works can help you a lot in avoiding confusions and using the English vocabulary correctly.

Therefore, let's explain a little more about what homonyms, homophones and homographs are and what you should know about them in order to spell and communicate in English correctly.

Homonyms vs. Homophones vs. Homographs

As you have probably noticed already, all three words start with the prefix "homo-", which has the meaning of "the same". So, all of these terms are actually defining pairs/groups of words that have something in common, from the same spelling to the same pronunciation.

What are homonyms?

Homonyms are words that are spelled the same but have completely different meanings (two or more). More exactly, a homonym is a word that can mean several things in different contexts, even though it is spelled the same.

Examples of these words can be: "address" (as a noun, it refers to a location, but it can also be used as a verb, meaning "to talk to"), "fair" (which can be used with the meaning of "right", "correct", "just", "equitable", or with the meaning of "beautiful"), "kind" (as a noun, it can refer to "type" or "population", while as an adjective it means "nice", "caring") etc.

There are plenty of words with several meanings even though they have the same spelling. These are called homonyms and are commonly causing confusion for English users.

 What are homophones?

Homophones are probably the most common causes when it comes to confusions between words. Actually, they are pairs of words that are pronounced the same and have very similar spellings, usually varying through only one letter. Even so, their meanings are completely different and should be used in different contexts, without the possibility to replace one another as this would totally change the message.

Some common examples of homophones are "break/brake", "cent/scent", "forth/fourth", "for/four" etc.

 What are homographs?

Homographs represent another category of words that frequently confuse English users. They are groups (usually pairs) of words that might or might not have the same spelling (generally they do), but are pronounced differently according to their meaning. Shortly, they are words identically written, but with completely different pronunciations and meanings.

Some examples of homographs are "desert" (referring to a region as a noun and to the action of leaving as a verb), "evening" (as a noun, it refers to a time in late afternoon, while as a verb, it refers to the action of making something even), "project" (referring to a plan/proposal as a noun, or to the action of projecting an image upon a surface) etc. According to their meaning, homographs are also pronounced distinctly.


Homonyms, homophones and homographs can be confusing, as they refer to very similar words and groups of words. But in the end, they are important means of offering plenty of meanings and possibilities to express actions, definitions and feelings in different ways, enriching the English vocabulary.

© Grammar.com