Homophones Definition and Examples in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Homophones are two or more words (such as knew and new or meat and meet) that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and often spelling. Adjective: homophonous or homophonic.

A homophone is generally considered a type of homonym.

In Homophones and Homographs: An American Dictionary (2006), James B. Hobbs points out that homophones may vary from one dialect to another. For example, "aunt and ant may be homophonous for some, while others would insist that aunt must properly rhyme with font or taunt, but never with the insect."

Etymology
From the Latin, "same sound"

Examples and Observations

  • "I will not scream for ice cream."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • "Her technique is a model, to some observers, of what makes an interview great; to others, of what makes an interview grate."
    (on Barbara Walters, "Not for Women Only." Time, Feb. 21, 1972)
  • Sealing the popcorn ceiling will not eliminate that old-fashioned cottage cheese look.
  • Pay is higher when there is greater competition to hire people.

Cue and ​Queue

"Would you have supposed that cue/queue would give trouble? A cue is a hint; a queue is the long line at the airline counter, the one headed by a guy going to Ankara by way of Fort Worth. In New Jersey, 'executives at large firms are increasingly taking queues from small business.' In Florida, TV comedian Imogene Coca recalled a time when a technician 'had no queue cards.' In Bloomington, Ind., last April, police raided a tavern after they received a queue from officers inside.

There's no way to blame these boners on typographical errors. The writers tripped over homophones." (James Kilpatrick, "The Writer's Art," Nov. 15, 1992)

Peace and ​Piece

The noun peace (freedom from strife) and the noun piece (a part of a larger thing) have different etymologies. Peace comes from the Latin word pax.

Piece comes from the Vulgar Latin word pettia.

Discreet and ​Discrete

"A solid-gold Bloopie to Bergdorf Goodman, for the phrase 'Discrete extravagance. . . .' The word meaning 'cautious, prudent, wary, tight-lipped' is discreet, which forms a nice oxymoron with extravagance; but the homophone discrete means 'separate, distinct, unattached, removed from.'" (William Safire, "On Language." The New York Times, April 22, 1990)

​​Homophones, Homographs, and Homonyms

"A homophone is a word that sounds exactly like another word, but has a different meaning and a different spelling. If you stand on the stair and stare at the picture, you have a good example of a couple of homophones. . . .

"It is possible for a word to be a ​homograph or a homophone. However, whatever the word may be, it is also, by definition, a homonym. In other words, homonym is a conceptual word that embraces both homograph and homophone." (David Rothwell, Dictionary of Homonyms. Wordsworth, 2007)

Homophones in ​The Telegraph

"Homophones remain abundant and show up the writer and the newspaper or website. We are quality media, and quality media do not make mistakes such as these: 'the luck of the drawer,' 'through the kitchen sink,' 'through up,' 'dragging their heals' and 'slammed on the breaks,' all of which are​ clichés that might not be worthy of a piece of elegant writing even if spelt correctly.

We have also confused Briton and Britain, hanger and hangar, hordes and hoards, peeled and pealed, lightening and lightning, stationery and stationary, principal and principle, peninsula and peninsular, licence and license and, in something of a pile-up, born, borne and bourn. If you are unsure of the meanings of any of these words, look them up before proceeding further." (Simon Heffer, "Style Notes." The Telegraph, Aug. 2, 2010)

The Lighter Side of Homophones: ​Anteater

"A genuine anteater,"
The pet man told my dad.
Turned out, it was an aunt eater
And now my uncle's mad!"
(Shel Silverstein, "Anteater." A Light in the Attic. HarperCollins, 1981)