The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with Western Europe and East Asia and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (June 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A homophone may also differ in spelling. The two words may be spelled the same, as in rose (flower) and rose (past tense of rise), or differently, as in rain, reign, and rein. The term "homophone" may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters, or groups of letters which are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter, or group of letters. Any unit with this property is said to be "homophonous".
Homophones that are spelled differently are also called heterographs.
"Homophone" derives from the Greek homo- (‑), "same", and ph?n? (?), "voice, utterance".
Homophones are often used to create puns and to deceive the reader (as in crossword puzzles) or to suggest multiple meanings. The last usage is common in poetry and creative literature. An example of this is seen in Dylan Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood: "The shops in mourning" where mourning can be heard as mourning or morning. Another vivid example is Thomas Hood's use of "birth" and "berth" and "told" and "toll'd" (tolled) in his poem "Faithless Sally Brown":
In some accents, various sounds have merged in that they are no longer distinctive, and thus words that differ only by those sounds in an accent that maintains the distinction (a minimal pair) are homophonous in the accent with the merger. Some examples from English are:
Wordplay is particularly common in English because the multiplicity of linguistic influences offers considerable complication in spelling and meaning and pronunciation compared with other languages.
In his Appalachian comedy routine, American comedian Jeff Foxworthy frequently uses same-sounding phrases which play on exaggerated "country" accents. Notable examples include:
During the 1980s, an attempt was made to promote a distinctive term for same sounding multiple words or phrases, by referring to them as "oronyms". That was first proposed and advocated by Gyles Brandreth in his book The Joy of Lex (1980), and such use was also accepted in the BBC programme Never Mind the Full Stops, which featured Brandreth as a guest. Since the term oronym was already well established in linguistics as an onomastic designation for a class of toponymic features (names of mountains, hills, etc.), the alternative use of the same term was not universally accepted in scholarly literature.
There are sites, for example, this archived page, which have lists of homonyms or rather homophones and even 'multinyms' which have as many as seven spellings. There are differences in such lists due to dialect pronunciations and usage of old words. In English, there are approximately 88 triples; 24 quadruples; 2 quintuples; 1 sextet and 1 septet. The septet is:
Other than the three common words (raise, rays and raze), there are:
If proper names are allowed then a nonet is:
There are many homophones in present-day standard German. As in other languages, however, there exists regional and/or individual variation in certain groups of words or in single words, so that the number of homophones varies accordingly. Regional variation is especially common in words that exhibit the long vowels ä and e. According to the well-known dictionary Duden, these vowels should be distinguished as /?:/ and /e:/, but this is not always the case, so that words like Ähre (ear of corn) and Ehre (honor) may or may not be homophones. Individual variation is shown by a pair like Gäste (guests) - Geste (gesture), the latter of which varies between /'?e:st?/ and /'st?/ and by a pair like Stiel (handle, stalk) - Stil (style), the latter of which varies between /?ti:l/ and /sti:l/. Besides websites that offer extensive lists of German homophones, there are others which provide numerous sentences with various types of homophones. In the German language homophones occur in more than 200 cases. Of these, a few are triples like Waagen (weighing scales), Wagen (cart), wagen (to dare) and Waise (orphan) - Weise (way, manner) - weise (wise). The rest are couples like lehren (to teach) - leeren (to empty).
There are many homophones in Japanese, due to the use of Sino-Japanese vocabulary, where borrowed words and morphemes from Chinese are widely used in Japanese, but many sound differences, such as the original words' tones, are lost. These are to some extent disambiguated via Japanese pitch accent, or from context, but many of these words are primarily or almost exclusively used in writing, where they are easily distinguished as they are written with different kanji; others are used for puns, which are frequent in Japanese. An extreme example is kik? (hiragana: ), which is the pronunciation of at least 22 words (some quite rare or specialized, others common; all these examples are two-character compounds), including? (organization/mechanism), (travelogue), (rare), (horseback riding), (school (respectful)), (outstanding achievement), (word for "you" used by men addressing male equals or inferiors), (draft), (eccentricity), (contrivance), (stopping at port), (returning to school), (breathing exercise/qigong), (contribute an article/written piece), (armor, e.g. of a tank), (homeward voyage), (remarkable effect), (season/climate), (stoma), (setting to work), (climate), (returning to port).
The Korean language contains a combination of words that strictly belong to Korean and words that are loanwords from Chinese. Due to Chinese being pronounced with varying tones and Korean's removal of those tones, and because the modern Korean writing system, Hangeul, has a more finite number of phonemes than, for example, Latin-derived alphabets such as that of English, there are many homonyms with both the same spelling and pronunciation. For example, '()': 'to put on makeup' and '()': 'to cremate'. Also, '()': 'inheritance' and '()': 'miscarriage'. '': 'fart', and '()': 'guard'. '?[?:]': 'chestnut', and '?': 'night'. There are heterographs, but far fewer, contrary to the tendency in English. For example, '()': 'learning', and '()': 'anus'. Using hanja (; ), which are Chinese characters, such words are written differently.
As in other languages, Korean homonyms can be used to make puns. The context in which the word is used indicates which meaning is intended by the speaker or writer.
Pseudo-homophones are pseudowords that are phonetically identical to a word. For example, groan/grone and crane/crain are pseudo-homophone pairs, whereas plane/plain is a homophone pair since both letter strings are recognised words. Both types of pairs are used in lexical decision tasks to investigate word recognition.
Homophones, specifically heterographs, where one spelling is of a threatening nature and one is not (e.g. slay/sleigh, war/wore) have been used in studies of anxiety as a test of cognitive models that those with high anxiety tend to interpret ambiguous information in a threatening manner.