Homonyms (also calles homophones) are words that sound like one another but have different meanings. Some homonyms are spelled the same, like bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (the outer layer of a tree trunk). Some homonyms are spelled differently, like one (the number) and won (having been victorious).
The Columbia Guide to Standard English defines homophones as words that are pronounced alike and have different spellings (like flower and flour), and defines homonyms as a more general term that includes both homophones and words that are spelled alike and have different meanings (like bank, the edge of a river and bank, a financial institution.
However, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (1993) defines the terms homonym and homophone in such a way that each term includes words that are pronounced alike and have different spelling, and also words that that are spelled alike and have different meanings. Are you following me?
- Ad – Add
- Allowed – Aloud
- Ant – Aunt
- Ball – Bawl
- Band – Banned
- Bear – Bare
- Be – Bee
- Blue – Blew
- Boared – Bored
The list goes all the way to China and back. Maybe to the Moon and back. The thing is, to really talk like a native, you must know all of these words; their spelling and their meanings. Not an easy task. Been there, done that.
Now, we take for granted the problems of words having two meanings, because that happens in any language. However, in English there are many examples of words which, although they look different (sometimes very different), they are pronounced exactly the same. Which word the speaker is actually saying must be guessed by the unfortunate listener.
For example bald/bawled, or kernel/Colonel. Less common are groups of three or more words which behave in this way, although with the confusing variety of accents in the English language, this list can vary, for example in many American accents, the words “paw” and “poor” sound very different, but in many British accents they sound identical.
To add insult to confusion, there are also words which, although they have exactly the same spelling, they have not only completely different meanings, but also completely different pronunciation. In many languages, if you ask someone how to pronounce a word, there is usually only one answer. But not here. Sometimes there is a stress on different syllables, changing the sound.
- Project – Our project was successful, they project their voices well.
- Object – I object to this object.
- Subject – We subject ourselves to this subject.
- Reject – Whatever they reject, becomes a reject.
- Desert – It is not easy to desert the desert.
- Invalid – The ticket was invalid, the accident left her an invalid.
- Entrance – My amazing entrance into the party will entrance everyone.
- Conduct – His conduct was terrible, it’s no way to conduct oneself.
- Record – She wanted to record a new record.
- Present – Allow me to present you with this present.
Okay, that’s it for today guys. This subject is so delicate, you have to take it in baby steps. Keep on pulling your hair and gritting your teeths, until you get it. Remember the phrase—“practice makes perfection.” Good Day.