A homophone is a word that is pronounced
Pronunciation refers to the way a word or a language is spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If one is said to have "correct pronunciation", then it refers to both within a particular dialect....

  the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled
Spelling is the writing of one or more words with letters and diacritics. In addition, the term often, but not always, means an accepted standard spelling or the process of naming the letters...

 the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), or differently, such as carat, caret
Caret usually refers to the spacing symbol ^ in ASCII and other character sets. In Unicode, however, the corresponding character is , whereas the Unicode character named caret is actually a similar but lowered symbol: ....

, and carrot
The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh...

, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms. Homophones that are spelled differently are also called heterographs. The term "homophone" may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter or group of letters.

The word derives from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 homo- (ὁμο-), "same", and phōnḗ (φωνή), "voice, utterance". The opposite is heterophone
Heteronym (linguistics)
In linguistics, heteronyms are words that are written identically but have different pronunciations and meanings. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row and row are heteronyms, but mean and mean are not...

: similar, but not phonetically identical words.

In wordplay and games

Homophones are often used to create pun
The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use and abuse of homophonic,...

s and to deceive the reader (as in crossword puzzles
A crossword is a word puzzle that normally takes the form of a square or rectangular grid of white and shaded squares. The goal is to fill the white squares with letters, forming words or phrases, by solving clues which lead to the answers. In languages that are written left-to-right, the answer...

) or to suggest multiple meanings. The last usage is common in poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 and creative literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

. An example of this is seen in Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Dylan Marlais Thomas was a Welsh poet and writer, Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 11 January 2008. who wrote exclusively in English. In addition to poetry, he wrote short stories and scripts for film and radio, which he often performed himself...

's radio play Under Milk Wood: "The shops in mourning" where mourning can be heard as mourning or morning. Another vivid example is Thomas Hood
Thomas Hood
Thomas Hood was a British humorist and poet. His son, Tom Hood, became a well known playwright and editor.-Early life:...

's use of 'birth' & 'berth' and "told' & 'toll'd' (tolled) in his poem "Faithless Sally Brown":
His death, which happen'd in his berth,
At forty-odd befell:
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton toll'd the bell.

In some accents, various sounds have merged in that they are no longer distinctive, and thus words that differ only by those sounds in an accent that maintains the distinction (a minimal pair
Minimal pair
In phonology, minimal pairs are pairs of words or phrases in a particular language, which differ in only one phonological element, such as a phone, phoneme, toneme or chroneme and have distinct meanings...

) are homophonous in the accent with the merger. Some examples from English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

pin and pen in many southern American accents
Southern American English
Southern American English is a group of dialects of the English language spoken throughout the Southern region of the United States, from Southern and Eastern Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky to the Gulf Coast, and from the Atlantic coast to most of Texas and Oklahoma.The Southern dialects make...

merry, marry, and Mary in most American accents.
The pairs do, due and forward, foreword are homophonous in most American accents but not in most British accents.
The pairs talk, torque, and court, caught are distinguished in rhotic
Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
English pronunciation can be divided into two main accent groups: a rhotic speaker pronounces a rhotic consonant in words like hard; a non-rhotic speaker does not...

 accents such as Scottish English
Scottish English
Scottish English refers to the varieties of English spoken in Scotland. It may or may not be considered distinct from the Scots language. It is always considered distinct from Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language....

 and most dialects of American English, but are homophones in many non-rhotic accents such as British Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation
Received Pronunciation , also called the Queen's English, Oxford English or BBC English, is the accent of Standard English in England, with a relationship to regional accents similar to the relationship in other European languages between their standard varieties and their regional forms...


Homophones of multiple words or phrases (as sometimes seen in word game
Word game
Word games and puzzles are spoken or board games often designed to test ability with language or to explore its properties.Word games are generally engaged as a source of entertainment, but have been found to serve an educational purpose as well...

s) are also known as "oronym
An oronym is a pair of phrases which share a similar relationship as the homophonic, in that they differ in meaning and spelling, yet share a similar pronunciation....

s". This term was coined by Gyles Brandreth
Gyles Brandreth
Gyles Daubeney Brandreth is a British writer, broadcaster and former Conservative Member of Parliament and junior minister.-Early life:...

 and first published in his book The Joy of Lex (1980), and it was used in the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 programme Never Mind the Full Stops, which also featured Brandreth as a guest.

Examples of "oronyms" (which may only be true homophones in certain dialects of English) include:
"ice cream" vs. "I scream" (as in the popular song "I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.")
"euthanasia" vs. "Youth in Asia"
"depend" vs. "deep end"
"the sky" vs. "this guy" (most notably as a mondegreen
A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. It most commonly is applied to a line in a poem or a lyric in a song...

 in Purple Haze
Purple Haze
"Purple Haze" is a song written in 1966 and recorded in 1967 by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and released as a single in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It appeared on their 1967 album Are You Experienced...

 by Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter...

"four candles" vs. "fork handles"
"sand which is there" vs. "sandwiches there"
"example" vs. "egg sample"
"some others" vs. "some mothers" and also vs. "smothers"
"night rain" vs. "night train"
"minute" vs. "my newt"
"Long Island" vs. "lawn guy land"
"real eyes, realize, real lies"
"a dressed male, addressed mail"
"Lu don’t move no cowards, Lu don’t move no cow herds"

In his Appalachian comedy routine, American comedian Jeff Foxworthy
Jeff Foxworthy
Jeffrey Marshall "Jeff" Foxworthy is an American comedian, television and radio personality and author. He is a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, a comedy troupe which also comprises Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. Known for his "you might be a redneck" one-liners, Foxworthy...

 frequently uses oronyms which play on exaggerated "country" accents. Notable examples include:
Initiate: "My wife ate two sandwiches, initiate [and then she ate] a bag o' tater chips."
Mayonnaise: "Mayonnaise [Man, there is] a lot of people here tonight."
Innuendo: "Hey dude I saw a bird fly innuendo [in your window]."
Moustache: "I Moustache [must ask] you a question..."

A malapropism is an act of misusing or the habitual misuse of similar sounding words, especially with humorous results. An example is Yogi Berra's statement: "Texas has a lot of electrical votes," rather than "electoral votes".-Etymology:...

s, which often create a similar comic effect, are usually near-homophones. See also Eggcorn
In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for...



Pseudo-homophones are pseudoword
A pseudoword is a unit of speech or text that appears to be an actual word in a certain language , while in fact it is not part of the lexicon. Within linguistics, a pseudoword is defined specifically as respecting the phonotactic restrictions of a language...

s that are phonetically identical to a word. For example, groan/grone and crane/crain are pseudo-homophone pairs, whereas plane/plain is a homophone pair since both letter strings are recognised words. Both types of pairs are used in lexical decision task
Lexical decision task
The lexical decision task is a procedure used in many psychology and psycholinguistics experiments. The basic procedure involves measuring how quickly people classify stimuli as words or nonwords....

s to investigate word recognition.

Use as ambiguous information

Homophones where one spelling is of a threatening nature and one is not (e.g. slay/sleigh, war/wore) have been used in studies of anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

 as a test of cognitive models that those with high anxiety tend to interpret ambiguous information in a threatening manner.

See also

  • Heterography and homography
  • Oronym
    An oronym is a pair of phrases which share a similar relationship as the homophonic, in that they differ in meaning and spelling, yet share a similar pronunciation....

  • List of dialect-independent homophones
  • List of dialect-dependent homophones

External links

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