Multiple Meaning Words: This is going to be a really interesting chapter! Homonyms, or multiple–meaning words, are words that have the same spelling and usually sound alike but have different meanings (e.g. Bark– dog bark, tree bark). Right from kindergarten, we learn to use context to determine which meaning of a multiple–meaning word is correct in a sentence.
Let’s check out a few examples of this interesting English language wonder, Multiple Meaning Words or Homonyms:
- I left my phone on the left side of the room.
- The baseball pitcher asked for a pitcher of water.
- The committee chair sat in the center chair.
- While they are at the play, I’m going to play with the dog.
- She will park the car so we can walk in the park.
- The crane flew above the construction crane.
Understanding Multiple Meaning Words or Homonyms
In linguistics, homonyms, broadly defined, are words which sound alike or are spelled alike but have different meanings.
A more restrictive definition sees homonyms as words that are simultaneously homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling)– that is to say, they have identical pronunciation and spelling, whilst maintaining different meanings.
Learn more about Synonyms and Antonyms here in detail.
The relationship between a set of homonyms is called homonymy. Examples of homonyms are the pair stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person) and the pair left (past tense of leave) and left (opposite of right).
A distinction is sometimes made between true homonyms, which are unrelated in origins, such as skate (glide on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).
In non-technical contexts, the term “homonym” may be used (somewhat confusingly) to refer to words that are either homographs or homophones.
The words row (propel with oars) and row (argument) and row (a linear arrangement of seating) are considered homographs, while the words read (peruse) and reed (waterside plant) would be considered homophones; under this looser definition, both groups of words represent groups of homonyms.
The adjective homonymous can additionally be used wherever two items share the same name, independent of how close they are or aren’t related in terms of their meaning or etymology.
A few more examples of Multiple Meaning Words or Homonyms: forearm, bat, beam, cast, command, duck, dust, employ, even, flat.
Other such Multiple Meaning Words
- Homographs (literally meaning “same writing”) are usually defined as words that share the same spelling, regardless of how they are pronounced. If they are pronounced the same then they are also homophones (and homonyms) – for example, bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree). If they are pronounced differently then they are also heteronyms – for example, bow (the front of a ship) and bow (a ranged weapon).
- Homophones (literally “same sound”) are usually defined as words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled. If they are spelled the same then they are also homographs (and homonyms); if they are spelled differently then they are also heterographs (literally “different writing”). Homographic examples include rose (flower) and rose (past tense of rising). Heterographic examples include to, too, two, and there, their, they’re. Due to their similar yet non-identical pronunciation in American English, ladder and latter do not qualify as homophones, but rather synophones.
A further example of a homonym, which is both a homophone and a homograph, is fluke. Fluke can mean:
- A fish, and a flatworm.
- The end parts of an anchor.
- The fins on a whale’s tail.
- A stroke of luck.
These meanings represent at least three etymologically separate lexemes but share the one form, fluke. How about you go ahead and find such cool words today. It will be fun framing them in different sentences. Have fun with grammar.
Practice Questions for You
1] Pick the correct homonyms for the given sentences.
Q: The king was in desperate need of a ______ to secure the future of his kingdom. (air or heir)
Ans: Heir. The king was looking for a successor.
Q: She ____ the ball so far that it landed in the neighbour’s garden. (threw, through)
Ans: Threw. The ball was thrown by her (verb)