Difference between Homonym and Homophone

December 13, 2016 by Editorial Team

If you have been on the internet, you have surely seen memes about the words “they’re” and “their” being misused. It is easy to mistakenly interchange them because they sound alike. They are called “homophones,” although many people would say they are “homonyms”! Which is correct? Or are they both correct?

The words “homonym” and “homophone” are two incorrectly interchanged words in English. Many people may know what they mean, but there are others who do not have the slightest idea what they are. If you are one of the confused, you’re in the right place. This article will discuss the difference between a homonym and a homophone.

Definitions

Homonym vs Homophone
The word rock is a homonym; it may refer to a solid natural mineral or can be used as an expression to describe someone who did something great

The term homonym comes from the Greek words homos, which means “same,” and onuma, which means “name.” It is a general term that refers to a set of words with the same pronunciation and the same, similar, or different spellings, but with different meanings. It is a broad part of speech that covers subcategories like homophones, homographs and heteronyms. Let’s see some examples below:

  1. Rose (flower) and rose (past tense of rise)
  2. Bass (guitar) and bass (fish)
  3. Suit (clothing) and soot (black substance)
  4. Fair (equal) and fare (payment for transportation)
  5. They’re (contraction of “they are”) and their (possessive pronoun)
homophone
Claus, claws, and clause are examples of homophones

The term homophone is derived from the Greek words homos, which means “same,” and phone, which means “voice” or “sound.” It is a subset of homonyms and specifically refers to a group of words with the same pronunciation but different meanings and different spellings. Here are some examples:

  1. Eight (number) and ate (past tense of eat)
  2. Dye (colored substance) and die (to stop living)
  3. Carat (unit of mass) and carrot (vegetable)
  4. Heir (successor) and air (matter)
  5. Altar (table for offerings) and alter (to change)

Homonym vs Homophone

What, then, is the difference between a homonym and a homophone?

Homonym means “same name” while homophone means “same sound” in Greek. Words that have the same or different spellings, with different meanings and the same pronunciation are called “homonyms.” On the contrary, the term “homophone” refers to the words that have different spellings and meanings, but have the same pronunciation.

So, as a conclusion, we can say that the words “they’re” and “their” we mentioned in the beginning of this article are both homonyms and homophones. Homophone is a subset of homonym, so all homophones are homonyms. However, not all homonyms are homophones.

Comparison Chart

HomonymHomophone
Means “same name” from the Greek terms homos and onumaDerived from the Greek terms homos and phone meaning “same sound”
Refers to a broad group of words that may or may not have the same spelling, but that have the same pronunciation and different meaningsA type of homonym that refers to the group of words that have different spellings, different meanings but the same pronunciation