Written by David Hatz, Teacher, Coach, Statistician (ret.)
As I noted in my last blog, English is the world’s most popular language. Many would suggest it is also one of the more difficult to master. And it is inarguably one of the most confusing, particularly for second-language learners.
Part of the reason for the level of difficulty and confusion are the homonyms,
homophones, and homographs that are liberally sprinkled throughout the lexicon, and suggest that Noah Webster possessed a devilish sense of humor and took perverse pleasure in constructing what was to eventually become the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Webster (1758-1843), was an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English-language spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”
So, what are homonyms, homophones, and homographs? I’m glad you asked.
According to Merriam-Webster:
Homonym can be troublesome because it may refer to three distinct classes of words. Homonyms may be words with identical pronunciations but different spellings and meanings, such as to, too, and two. Or they may be words with both identical pronunciations and identical spellings but different meanings, such as quail (the bird) and quail (to cringe). Finally, they may be words that are spelled alike but are different in pronunciation and meaning, such as the bow of a ship and bow that shoots arrows. The first and second types are sometimes called homophones, and the second and third types are sometimes called homographs – which makes naming the second type a bit confusing. Some language scholars prefer to limit homonym to the third type.
Below is a brief (and by no means complete) list of words that may cause consternation for some students:
see (with your eyes) lead (to guide)
sea (the ocean) lead (the metal)
too (as well) lie (untruth)
two (2) lie (lie down)
there fair (appearance)
their (possessive) fair (county fair)
they’re (contraction) fair (reasonable)
fare (cost of public transport)
bough (tree limb)
bow (front of a boat) bass (fish)
bow (at the waist) bass (low musical note)
bow (tied with ribbon) base (math, number base)
bow (shoots arrows) base (four bases in baseball/softball)
tear (in the eye) close (near or next to)
tear (rip) close (to shut)
Now, I’ll provide a few more examples of words that are pronounced the same but have different definitions. How many do you know the definitions of without looking them up? I would encourage you to look up the ones you do not know because increasing one’s vocabulary is invaluable to improving one’s reading and writing proficiency.
How well did you do? I’ll include more “quizzes” in future blogs.
I’ll leave you today with some sentences that incorporate a combination of the types of words I discussed today. Enjoy!
1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
2. The farm was used to produce produce.
3. The landfill was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10. I did not object to the object.