The other day, an article by Marlene Davis titled “Why English is so hard to learn”1 appeared in my Instagram feed. It piqued my interest, although my attention peaked after about 15 minutes of doing more research on just how confusing English must be to someone learning the language … homonyms, homophones, homographs, and heteronyms?!
A homophone is a homonym where two or more words have the same pronunciation but different meanings and spelling, for example:
- I’m allowed to use the coffee house as my workplace, but it’s frowned upon to speak aloud.
- I checked the site to verify the information, but the printing was too small, and my sight is so bad.
- Who knows what the answer is, but her responses are usually on the nose.
- Only a prophet will know if the company will surpass a 20% profit.
Homonyms can also refer to homographs, where words can have the same spelling but more than one meaning. They may or may not have the same pronunciation (but if they are pronounced differently, they are heteronyms):
- Doing taxes taxes my brain.
- He tried to have a frank discussion with his client while eating a juicy frank.
- She tried to project an air of confidence even though her project was riddled with inaccuracies.
- She moped around the house because her moped was broken.
Heteronyms are each of two or more words that are spelled alike but have different meanings and are pronounced differently. They are homographs but not homophones:
- I am not content with the content of the Notice of Proposed Assessment.
- My eyes tear up every time I tear open a letter from the FTB or IRS.
- My client decided to desert his efforts to supply me with his receipts, claiming that his brain was a desert wasteland.
- The long-term care insurance was invalid because she was already an invalid.
I can’t remember learning this in school. I’m glad English is my first language.