Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Homo-nyms-phones-graphs and Heteronyms

Good Wednesday,

***PLEASE NOTE: Media Monday will be on Tuesday next week. Thank you.***

Often when I receive feedback on my monthly thesis submissions, there are points that are marked as having an issue and then noted as “homophone.” Before fixing the mistake, I would stare at these words and think to myself “But that’s a homonym, isn’t it?”

Well, I’ve just about had enough of wondering. So I turned to the Google to find out the true story about homophones/nyms/whatever.

Homonym – from the Greek homo (same) and onym (name), two or more words that share the same pronunciation, spelling, or both.

That didn’t answer my question.

A bit more digging led me to the discovery that homonym is an umbrella term for three subcategories of word pairings—homophones, homographs, and heteronyms. As if writing wasn’t confusing enough already. In any event, I researched these three subcategories and am here today to present them in a, hopefully, easy-to-digest format.

Here goes.


Two or more words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings. They may or may not be spelled the same.

In other words, the words sound alike, don’t mean the same thing, and may/may not have the same spelling.

How about an example?

Site and Sight
Site – a place (construction site), also combined with “web” to create its internet counterpart, “website”
Sight – the sense of seeing, occipital sense data (sorry, psych major).

These words are spelled differently, have different meanings but sound exactly the same.

Another example:

Not to be a rhymaholic, but Right and Right.
Right – the direction opposite left
Right – correct


Simple enough, right? Let’s move on.


Words that share the same spelling. They may or may not share pronunciation.

Now the words are spelled the same but might sound different.

Exhibit A:

Not to be confusing, but Right and Right again. They share a spelling and a pronunciation, making them both homophones and homographs.

Exhibit B:

Tear – moisture involved in crying
Tear – to rip a hole in

Same spelling, different pronunciation, different meaning.

Moving on.


These share spelling but not pronunciation.

In other words, they’re homographs that aren’t homophones.


Not to be redundant, but Tear and Tear as above.


As you can see, there is quite a bit of overlap. So why are there three different terms? I have no idea. I didn’t write the language. If I had there would have been considerably fewer of these situations, but that’s how it is.

So the next time someone critiques your work and writes “homophone” in the comments, you’ll know if it’s really a homophone or if it’s actually a homograph or heteronym. If you want to be super evil, send them this blog post with a message saying “Actually, you’re wrong. And here’s why. So there.” Consider being more tactful. Or don’t, it’s all up to you.

Hope this was at least a bit helpful. It certainly helped me solidify it in my head. That’s one person helped at least. I feel much better now.

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