Rated 4.8/5 by parents & students

Grammar Clinic: Homophones, Homonyms, Heteronyms – Know The Difference….


Homonyms, or multiple meaning words, are words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings. To put it another way, homonyms are both homophones and homographs!


A  homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as other words but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, and may differ in spelling. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of “rise”), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. 

The words may be spelled the same, or differently.


Same Spelling: Rose   =  Flower

Rose = past tense of rise

Different Spelling: Carat, Caret, Carrot

To, Two, To

Heterographs are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. They are also known as homophonic heterographs. English example sets are “there, their, and they’re”; “your, you’re, and yore”, “its and it’s”; and “here and hear”, pray and prey, seas, see and seize.

Heteronyms (also known as a heterophone) are words that are written identically but have a different pronunciation and meaning. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row (propel with oars) and row (argument) are heteronyms, but mean (intend) and mean(average) are not (since they are pronounced the same). Heteronym pronunciation may vary in vowel realisation, in stress pattern or in other ways:

  1. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  2. They were too close to the door to close it.
  3. Don’t desert me here in the desert!
  4. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  5. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  6. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

A Homograph is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. When spoken, the meanings may be distinguished by different pronunciations, in which case the words are also heteronyms. Words with the same writing and pronunciation (i.e. are both homographs and homophones) are considered homonyms.


bear (verb) – to support or carry
bear (noun) – the animal

In (1) the words are identical in spelling and pronunciation (i.e. they are also homophones), but differ in meaning and grammatical function.

sow (verb) – to plant seed
sow (noun) – female pig

(2) is an example of two words spelt identically but pronounced differently. Here confusion is not possible in spoken language but can occasionally occur in written language.


Heterograph Homonym Heteronym
Different spelling and meaning e.g too/two Different meaning, same spelling e.g. tire (car wheel) tire (fatigue) Different pronunciation and meaning, same spelling   e.g desert  (arid region) / desert (cleave)
Different spelling – e.g gasses/gasses Identical words Different pronunciation e.g the (before vowel sound) / the (before consonant sound)


type of homonym
  same sound   same sound
  same OR different spelling   different spelling
  fair (county fair)
fair (reasonable)
pear (fruit)
pair (couple)
cell (prison space)

sell (purchase)

  pear (fruit)
pair (couple)


type of homograph
  same OR different sound   different sound
  same spelling   same spelling
  lie (untruth)
lie (lie down)
tear (in the eye)
tear (rip)

  tear (in the eye)
tear (rip)


Homographs are words that are spelled the same, no matter the pronunciation but have a different meaning as in hound (a dog breed) or hound (to pester).  Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation, no matter how they’re spelled, but also have a different meaning, for example: fair (a public gathering) and  fare (a fee for public transportation).  If they’re spelled the same they’re both homographs and homonyms. For example, rose (the flower) and rose (past tense of to rise). Now let’s add another word to the mix: Heterographs. These are words that are spelled differently, but sound the same. We know them as to, too, two, and there, their, and they’re.

But wait, there’s more. Heteronyms are a subset of homographs (and let’s not forget homonyms) that have different pronunciations and meanings. In other words, they are homographs, but not homophones. These include row (as in an argument) and row (at to row a boat or a row of seats).

Below is a chart for clarification*:

Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym    Different Same Same
Homograph   Different Same Same or different
Homophone  Different Same or different Same
Heteronym  Different Same Different
Heterograph     Different Different Same


1 thought on “Grammar Clinic: Homophones, Homonyms, Heteronyms – Know The Difference….”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top