By Rollin’ Molin
If you’ve ever met me, I’m sure you know that when I get started, I can’t stop making puns. And I’m sure that you’ve heard the confusion among people learning English over their, they’re, and there and maybe have tried to explain the difference only to have someone say, “But they sound the same?”
Ditto with to, too, and two.
These types of words are called homophones (homo- same; phone- to speak) or heterographs (hetero– different; graph– to write). These are words that have the same sound but have different meanings and spelling.
These can actually change depending on the regional accent. What might be a homophone in one area of a country isn’t necessarily a homophone in another. For instance, in some areas of the United States, the words weather and whether are homophones and in others they aren’t. I pronounce aunt like ‘ahnt’, but many people pronounce it like ‘ant’, making it a homophone of ant. Same with the words buoy/boy. Naturally, this also happens across international borders. Do and due are homophones in American English (du/du), but are not in British English (do/dyu). And in American English moose and mouse are not homophones (muse/mouwse), but in Scottish English they are muse and muse.
Here’s a link to common homophones!
On the other side, we have words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and may or may not have a different pronunciation. These are called homographs, (homo– same; graph- to write). These words may cause stress to new learners, especially if they’ve learned the words at separate times. (Coughmecough)
Homographs are split into two categories. When a homograph has a different pronunciation, it’s called a heteronym (hetero– different; nym– name/word), and when it has the same pronunciation, it’s a homonym (homo- same; nym – name/word).
Some examples of homographs:
– He does have a fast car.
– Does are female deer.
– He doesn’t feel well.
– We dug a new well.
The word homonym has had a few disputes over it. Many people say that homonyms can be either homophones or homographs and that it’s just a category. However, homonyms in the strictest sense are both homophones AND homographs. This is seen with words like rose, which is both the past tense of rise and a beautiful flower.
It’s also seen with bear, which is either to support/carry the weight of, or the carnivoran mammal of the family Ursidae.
So if I say “bear with me”, I’m either asking you to hold on and deal with me a little longer, or I’m telling you that I have successfully kidnapped a bear. Good luck figuring out which.
If you’re still not content with this content, here is a lovely venn diagram that will hopefully help you out in the future!! (source: Wikimedia, Will Heltsley. 28 February 2016)