Definition of Homograph

The word homograph originated from the Greek word homos that means “the same” and graph means “to write”, and it is used extensively in language. It can be defined as words that are used in such a manner as to give two or more different meanings where the words have the same spelling, but different meanings and sometimes different pronunciation as well.

Bear (verb) means to endure, and bear (noun) is a name of an animal can be considered as one of the examples of homograph. This literary device is one of the types of pun (paronomasia).

Similarity with Homonym

Homonym is a bigger category of which homographs are a part.. All homograph examples are also identified as homonym examples since a homograph is a specific term, but a homonym is a generalized term. Homographs are words with different meanings but the same spelling such as tire (fatigue) and tire (wheel tire).

Difference between Homograph and Homophone

The basic difference between homophone and homograph is that homographs are words that have the same spelling such as “He is my close relative” and “Please close the door.” However, homophones are words that sound the same and are spelled differently such as “That was read” and “That was red.”

Examples of Homographs from Literature

Example #1

“They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation to me, every now and then, and stick the point into me”

(Great Expectations by Charles Dickens)

Here, in this excerpt, both the underlined words are identical in spellings, but have different meanings. The first “point” means direction and second “point” means the idea.

Example #2

When Words Don’t Fit – A Multiple Meaning Words Poem
I have such a fit (tantrum)
When these words don’t fit (match)!
Like when all through the spring (season)
All the deer jump and spring (bounce),
And the lions feel they might (perhaps)
Want to show their strength and might (power),
When the monkeys swing (sway)
From a vine like a swing(hanging seat),
And the roar of the bear (animal)
Is too loud for me to bear (endure),
And I can’t try to pet (stroke)
One, since it’s not a pet (domesticated animal)!
I’m not trying to be mean (cruel),
But what do these words mean (imply)?

This poem is probably the best piece to use if you are teaching Homograph 101 as the words used are very familiar. Using context clues, the meanings (enclosed in parentheses) of the homographs are easy to decipher.

Example #3

Vladimir Nabokov has used multilingual and unique homographs in his novel Lolita. For instance, a character’s name “Humbert” is used as a pun in different languages. In Spanish, its meaning is “man” and in French its meaning is “shadow”. Similarly, the name of a character “Lolita” is changed to “Dolores”. In Latin its meaning is “pain” and meaning of her nickname “Dolly” is a toy in English.

Example #4

“When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done for I have more.
That at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more….”

(A Hymn to God the Father by John Donne)

Donne has played on the words “done” and “more”. He has rhymed his name Donne and his wife’s name Anne More with these words. These are homographs that have the same spelling and pronunciation. Donne has used it for wry effects.

Example #5

Beatrice: “The count is neither sad, nor sick,
nor merry, nor well: but civil, count; civil as an
orange, and something of that jealous complexion….”

(Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare)

Here Beatrice is mocking Claudio, saying he is “civil” like a bitter orange which describes the bitter feelings of Claudio. This is a pun on Seville that is pronounced as “ci-VIL” and from where these oranges come.

Function of Homograph

Homographs are used as a word play to create humorous and comic effects in literary writings, in theaters and limerick form of poems. Frequently in literary works, these make the readers think, laugh and increase the clarity of text by playing with specific words. Generally, it is done voluntarily to create humor and wryness. It also increases the vocabulary of readers by introducing secondary or multiple meanings of the terms.

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3 comments for “Homograph

  1. Jo Isleta
    November 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    I have learned so much from this. Hope you can still provide as many examples as possible.

  2. Akshatha
    January 11, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Thanks for these examples. It was worthful.
    But can you please send some homographs that are relevant my grade…
    I’m in grade 5….
    Please send A.S.A.P.

  3. aditi
    March 4, 2016 at 3:27 am

    Helped me alot. Can provide some examples like “tie the tie” or “drink the drink”.
    Thank you.

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