Definition and Examples of Paronyms

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In grammar and morphology, a paronym is a word that is derived from the same root as another word, such as children and childish from the root word child. Adjective: paronymous. Also known as a beside-word.

In a broader sense, paronyms may refer to words that are linked by a similarity of form.

In these lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 129 ("The expense of spirit in a waste of shame"), paronymy and polyptoton are combined:

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe . . ..

J. F. Ross notes that in English grammar, "plurals, tense endings ('tensing', 'tensed'), and predicate mode endings (-able, -tion, -ness, etc.) produce paronyms from the root" (Portraying Analogy, 1981). 

From the Greek, "beside" + "name"

Examples and Observations 

  • "Gene Derwood's Shelter has these lines... .:
    While people hunt for what can satisfy their wants
    There is a watching and a sharp recording.
    Both seekers and watchers are the palpitants
    And much is said with no deep ferny wording.
    'Palpitants' is a paronym for 'palpitate,' used here metaphorically to convey anxiousness and 'wording' a paronym for 'word' used metaphorically for 'meaning.'"
    (James F. Ross, Portraying Analogy. Cambridge University Press, 1981)
  • "I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards." (Abraham Lincoln)
  • "I guess Bart's not to blame. He's lucky, too, because it's spanking season, and I got a hankerin' for some spankerin'." (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)
  • "Grammarian Patricia O'Conner is back to challenge your grammar knowledge and discuss common grammar pet peeves." (New Hampshire Public Radio, December 21, 2000)
  • Paronymy: The relationship between two or more words partly identical in form and/or meaning, which may cause confusion in reception or production. In the narrow sense the term paronymy refers to 'soundalikes' (cognate near-homophones such as affect/effect or feminine/feminist), but in the wider sense it covers any 'lookalike' or 'meanalike' confusable words." (R. R. K. Hartmann and Gregory James, ​Dictionary of Lexicography. Routledge, 1998)
  • Paronyms and Homonyms: "Two words are paronyms when their phonemic representations are similar but not identical. Two words are homonyms when their phonemic or graphemic representation is identical, and two words are homographs when their graphemic representation is identical (i.e., they are spelled the same). Two words are homophones when their phonemic representation is identical (i.e., they are pronounced the same). Homographs and homophones are subclasses of homonyms." (Salvatore Attardo, Linguistic Theories of Humor. Walter de Gruyter, 1994)
  • Aristotle's Concept of Paronym: "When things are called after something in accordance with its name, but differing in ending, they are said to be paronyms. Thus, for example, the grammarian ('the grammatical one') gets his name from grammar, the brave one . . . gets his from bravery . . .." (Aristotle, Categories)
    "[In the Categories,] Aristotle commences with some terminological remarks, introducing (Cat. 1 a 1 ff.) the concepts of 'homonym' (in scholastic terminology: equivocal), 'synonym" (univocal), and 'paronym' (denominative). He has taken over these three concepts from Speusippus, but he uses them differently, for the concepts do not apply to the linguistic sign, the word, but to the thing qua signified. Homonymous entities are accordingly to be understood as entities with the same name but with different definitions, as for example a real human being and a picture of a human being. Synonyms are entities with the same name and the same definition—the name 'animal' signifies the same, whether it is applied to 'man' or 'cow.' Paronyms are linguistic derivations, not in any etymological sense, but, for example, as when we say that the man is 'white' because he possesses 'whiteness.' It is obvious that one will get into a logical mire unless one relies primarily upon univocal entities (synonyms)." (Karsten Friis Johansen, A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine. Trans. by Henrik Rosenmeier. Routledge, 1998)
  • "[Z]ero-derived paronyms: [are] those with no affix or other overt sign of category change (stress pattern, for instance), like comb (n.):comb (v.), hammer (n.):hammer (v.), and saw (n.):saw (v.)." (D. A. Cruse, Lexical Semantics. Cambridge University Press, 1986)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Paronyms." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Definition and Examples of Paronyms. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Paronyms." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).