Homonyms, Homophones, Homographs and Heteronyms

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There is some confusion and controversy around the definition of homonyms, homophones, homographs and heteronyms. In this article we will explore the difference between those terms.

Homonym comes from the Greek homo which means “same” and onym which means “name.” When we talk about words, however, what should we use to define their names? The spelling or the pronunciation? Probably both. Homonyms, therefore, can be defined as two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

Since there are several “types” of homonyms (e.g., same spelling but different pronunciation, same pronunciation but different spelling, same spelling and same pronunciation), further categorization is needed. We can say that homonyms represent the big category, from which 3 sub-categories emerge:

Homophones: two or more words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings. They may or may not be spelled on the same way.

Examples: write and right, desert (to abandon) and desert (a thing deserved)

Homographs: homonyms that share the same spelling. They may or may not have the same pronunciation.

Examples: present (a gift) and present (to introduce), row (argument) and row (propel with oars)

Heteronyms: those are homonyms that share the same spelling but have different pronunciations. That is, they are homographs which are not homophones.

Example: desert (to abandon) and desert (arid region)

Summing up


The Wikipedia article on homonyms has a quite useful graph illustrating all the different combinations. As you can see some homophones are also homographs, and some homographs are also heteronyms.

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28 thoughts on “Homonyms, Homophones, Homographs and Heteronyms”

  1. Thanks Sharon. Still I find that there should be a standard definition for those terms.

    While the view I used is the most used one, there are sources (even important ones like the Britanica) presenting a different definition.

  2. Do you have any homographs?^,^ I am doing a homework. I need to find 3 homographs. Can u giv me 2 more examples? So far, i have ‘Row’. Please…>

  3. .,uhm. . . thank you whoever made this article ..it help me a lot… im one of a lot of people who confuses me in their meanings…. i like the graph that summarizes it all…thank you

  4. Thanks for the article.

    When I further read the Wikipedia page you referenced, I find your definition of homonym is different from the Wikipedia page you cited.

    In particular, your def. of homonyms makes it the super-set of homographs and homophones. The definition in Wikipedia is that homonyms is the intersection of homophones and homographs.


  5. hmMMmm????can u help me to find 10 examples of heteronym and 10 examples of homographs and also 10 examples of homophones for my homework in english111…..plsss help me

  6. I checked in your site hoping to find the difference between homonyms and homophones and ended up getting even more confused.

    I wish there was a standard definition which defined things straight.

  7. Can anybody help me by giving 10 words with different meanings(Homonyms) to complete my son’s homework.

    Thanks and Regards

  8. the differences clearly made by the writer makes it clear for someone’s understanding but the examples given are not much. Could you please make an update of other few examples?

  9. Cany you send me 10 examples of the homonyms, heteronyms, homophones, homografs, and puntuations English rules. It will a great help for my English test.

  10. I am still confused about homographs and heterographs–the definition seems to contradict itself–it says that a homographs are homonyms that share the same spelling–they may or may NOT have the same pronunciation; homonyms are 2 or more words that have the same spelling, pronunciation, but different meanings; and heteronyms have the same spelling but different pronunciations–homographs which are NOT homophones. Very confusing for me and to teach to students. What are these: lead–I will lead the parade.; and lead–the pipe has lead in it? I read the book today; I read the book yesterday. Thanks for helping me understand….

  11. You made a mistake when you said that the 2 deserts were homophones (they need to sound alike and do not) they are therefore homographs.

  12. You definitions of homonym, homograph and homophone seem to agree with the definition from this website. Homonyms mean they have the same name. That could mean they are spelled the same or that they sound the same or both. Homophones and homographs are types of homonyms. Homophones have the same name in the way they sound. (to, too, two.) Homographs have the same name in the way they are spelled. (Can you pass me the can of soup?)
    I tend to believe those two websites over wikipedia.

  13. It’s a bit confusing- the Heteronym part that is.

    The chart is lacking a category of different or the same meaning(s).

  14. The ignorance of many people posting on social media has peaked my interest in HOMOPHONES, words that sound alike but aren’t spelled the same, nor do they share the same meaning, e.g. to/too/two, or way/weigh) But what does one call a GROUP of words that sound like a single word, but don’t share the same meaning? (e.g., “in tension”/”intention,” or “in tents”/”intense”) 

    While “intension” and “intention” are homophones, two or more words that sound like one word don’t seem to qualify as homophones. (Or is there an exception?) 

    Homographs don’t apply either, (words spelled the same, can even sound the same, but don’t mean the same. e.g. “bear (grizzly)/bear (to bear arms) A HETERONYM is a subset of a homograph, spelled the same, but doesn’t sound the same. e.g. moped (past tense of mope) vs. Moped (a motorized bike) Another example is “lead” (a leader) vs. “lead” (paint). 

    How can a HOMOGRAPH generally be considered a type of HOMONYM, when a HETERONYM is a SUBSET of a homograph?

  15. Hello, so row (argument) and row (propel with oars) are homographs and heteronyms as well right? Thanks very much

  16. desert (a thing served) is spelled with two S’s – dessert. Probably just a typo, but should be fixed – thanks for the article, very informative.

  17. Examples: write and right, desert (to abandon) and desert (a thing deserved) – I don’t believe a desert is something deserved. The correct word is dessert as in “just desserts”

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