What are the Most Common Homonyms? Explained

The English language is full of homonyms, homophones, and homographs. This article explains common homonyms.

A homonym is two or more words with different meanings, even though they sound and are spelled the same.

The root word, “onym,” means “name.” If you connect the prefix “homo” and root word “onym,” you get “same name.”

A homonym is one word that has:

  • Two different meanings
  • The same pronunciation

Don’t confuse common homonyms with homophones. The latter describes words that share the same pronunciation but have different spellings and uses.

A homophone is two words that:

  • Are pronounced the same
  • Are spelled differently
  • Mean two different things
common homonyms

Examples of Common Homonyms

Bat

  • Meaning 1: noun; an implement used to hit a baseball
  • Meaning 2: noun; a dark-colored nocturnal mammal with wings

Bark

  • Meaning 1: noun; tissue on the outside of a tree
  • Meaning 2: verb; a dog making a short, loud, explosive sound

Right

  • Meaning 1: adjective; aligns with the law
  • Meaning 2: adverb; a direction 
  • Meaning 3: noun; qualities that meet moral or legal standards

Lie

  • Meaning 1: verb; to recline
  • Meaning 2: noun; an untruth
  • Meaning 3: verb; to say something that isn’t true

Duck

  • Meaning 1: noun; a type of bird that lives in or near the water
  • Meaning 2: verb; to quickly bow to avoid getting hit 

A List of Homonyms

Use the list below of 20 common homonyms as a worksheet. What are the two different meanings of the same word?

  • match
  • band
  • suit
  • fair
  • scale
  • lime
  • book
  • board
  • down
  • cool
  • well
  • second
  • fine
  • overlook
  • row
  • pen
  • arm
  • tire
  • rock
  • spring

The Difference Between Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

These English grammar terms share the same prefixes, “homo,” which means “same.” You’ve read the difference between homonyms and homophones, but you need to know one more term: homographs.

What is a Homograph?

A homograph is a pair of words with the same spelling and different pronunciations and meanings.

A homograph is two words that are:

  • Spelled the same
  • Pronounced differently
  • Defined differently

Homograph Examples

A few common examples of homographs from the English language include:

bow

  • pronounced “bau̇”; verb that means to bend at the waist (take a bow)
  • pronounced “bō”; noun that means a string or ribbon that is tied into loops (tie a bow)

lead

  • pronounced “lēd”; verb that means to go first with others following (lead the way)
  • pronounced “led”; noun that means a type of metal (lead pipe)

tear

  • pronounced “teer;” noun that means a drop of saline fluid from the eye
  • pronounced “ter;” verb that means to rip or shred

These examples show words with the same spelling; however, each word has two pronunciations and two different meanings. 

A List of Homographs

Use the list below of ten more homographs as a worksheet. What are the different pronunciations and meanings of the same word?

  • bass
  • moped
  • read
  • produce
  • wind
  • wound
  • object
  • compress
  • close
  • desert

A Shortcut for Remembering

Here’s a chart to help you remember the differences between words that are homophones, homonyms, and homographs:

Common Homonyms

For the ESL Learner

Learning English is a challenge. Homonyms, homophones, and homographs can be especially confusing if English is a new or second language. After all, you’re using very similar words that sometimes have slightly different spellings, meanings, and even pronunciations. 

Knowing the context or how the word is being used can help you understand the differences. Of course, dedicated practice to reading and speaking the English language also helps, as does practicing your writing skills. 

The Final Word on Homonyms

“Homonym” is an ambiguous term. As outlined above, the word can have its own category, or it can be a more general term that includes both homophones and homographs.

This is where the prefix “homo” is important. When you study the words, they’re either the same in sound or the same in spelling.

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Author

  • Tammy Tilley has taught Language Arts and college writing courses for over 35 years. She has written for almost as many years, primarily human interest stories for newspapers, magazines, online sources, and for the tourism industry. She makes her home in the Midwest.

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