Definition of Homophone

A homophone can be defined as a word that when pronounced seems similar to another word but has a different spelling and meaning such as bear and bare are similar in pronunciation but are different in spelling as well as in meaning. Sometimes the words may have the same spelling such as rose and the past tense of rise, but mostly they are spelt differently such as carrot, caret and carat. In literature, homophones are used extensively in poetry and prose to make rhythmic effects and to put emphasis on something. They are also used to create a multiplicity of meanings in piece.

Types of Homophones

There are different types of homophones:

  • Some homophones are similar in spelling, but different in meanings. They are called homographs. For instance, hail vs. hail. One hail means ice storm and the second means something that occurs in large numbers (eg a hail of bullets).
  • Some of them have the same pronunciation but different meanings and these are called homonyms. For instance, cite, sight and site.
  • The homophones that have different spellings but are pronounced in the same way are called heterographs. For instance, write vs. right.
  • The homophones that have multiple words or phrases, having similar sounds, are called oronyms. For instance, “ice cream”vs. “I scream”.
  • Pseudo-homophones are homophones that are identical phonetically. However, one of the pair of words is not a real word, such as groan/grone.

Examples of Homophones in Literature

Example #1

Sole owner am I of this sorry soul
pour out corruption’s slag from every pore
whole slates scrape clean! they leave no gaping hole.
Rôle that I’ve played, loose grip! while back I roll,
or dodge each wave, or with firm grip on oar
bore through this sea, snout down, just like the boar,

(Where Truth’s Wind Blew by Venicebard)

This poem is filled with examples of homophone. The homophones are marked in bold. They create a humorous effect in the poem through having the same pronunciation but altogether different meanings.

Example #2

“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)

John Done has used the name of his wife Anne and his own name Donne as homophones. In addition, he makes use of word “son” instead of “sun”, to refer to Christ. They are also homophones.

Example #3

“On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest….“I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn’t I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean it naturally is Ernest…..”

( The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde)

In this extract, Oscar Wilde used the word “earnest” as a homophone. Here Jack Earnest is talking to his aunt Augusta and mocks his family. Jack finds out that his father’s name makes him really earnest.

Example #4

“Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Romeo: Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes. With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead. So stakes me to the ground I cannot move…..”

( Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

Some of Shakespeare’s famous literary pieces are rich with homophone examples. One of which is the above-mentioned extract where he uses the words “sole” and “soul” as homophones. Romeo talks about soles of his shoes and the soul of his heart that is heavy with sorrow.

Example #5

“Now is the winter of our discontent…made glorious summer by this Son of York……”(Richard III)

(Richard III by William Shakespeare)

Here Shakespeare uses two words similar in pronunciation “sun” and “son” which are homophones. Since Duke of York has a son Edward, who is also taken as a sun whose rising power would create trouble for Richard.

Function of Homophone

The purpose of using homophones in literature is to create humorous effects by using words that have two or more meanings. In everyday life, these words are employed intentionally in witty remarks. In addition, these give meaning to a literary piece of work, and writers reveal the ingenuity of their characters through the use of homophones.

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