Feel the Difference: Homophones, Homonyms and Homographs

The other day we talked about some of the best grammar books that could become your Bible of English. It is obvious that in the business of writing, academic writing in particular, you cannot do without proper grammar. Sadly, English grammar is full of confusing concepts, such as these 3H: homophones, homonyms and homographs. Very often these difficulties disappoint and discourage students, so they just give up trying to write good essays. Royal Editing editors can assure you that it is still worth trying to improve even when you feel lost in grammar. And meanwhile, you can entrust your papers to our team of professional editors. Place an order online and within a day you will receive your paper back, edited and with track-change option on, so you could learn from your own mistakes.

Why You Need to Know 3H Words

Homonyms, homophones and homographs are often confused not only by foreign students, but even by native speakers and teachers. These concepts are easy to misunderstand and misuse, because they are very similar. Therefore we decided to bring them together in one article and study them in comparison. It is important to understand what those words stand for, mean and their main differences, not only for linguistics or literature majors. Every person who ever writes needs to be aware of the 3H words. If you refuse to acknowledge the existence of homophones, homonyms and homographs how will you be able to spot their wrong usage in your writing? Thus, to eliminate any misused homophones, homonyms or homographs from your formal papers you will first need to learn what they are.


Once we have already mentioned homophones in one of our posts about basic grammar rules to remember. And there is strong reason to that, because wrong usage of homophones is one of the most common mistakes made in writing. Even very educated people sometimes have homophone related errors in their papers due to a simple inattention in a rush. Therefore it is highly recommended to use professional editing and proofreading services for all your important papers. And the only way to avoid making homophones errors, it is to learn what homophones mean.

Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation, very often are spelled in the same way, but have completely different meaning. Homophones that have different spelling are also called heterographs. Homophones can be words which relate to different parts of the language like: he’ll (contraction of he will) and heal (a verb that means to restore health), knows and nose, knap and nap, etc. And those that belong to the same part of the language like: stake and steak, installation and instillation, summary and summery. It is hard to tell how many homophones there are in English, because the language develops and adopts new words every day. You can find quite extensive list of homophones on the Internet to make sure you use an appropriate word. When you are not sure if it is the right word, always consult with a dictionary for its exact meaning. This way you will be able to avoid awkward mistakes in your writing, for example like this one: She took off her shoes and walked on the fresh grass with her bear feet. (Bare – naked, uncovered; bear – a wild forest animal with brown fur).


Homonyms are sometimes called words with multiple meanings. People often confuse them with synonyms, though these two concepts are completely opposite. Synonyms are different words, with different spelling and pronunciation who share same or similar meaning. In contrast, homonyms are very much like homophones, they are the words that have same spelling, same pronunciation, but completely different meaning. For example: bark (dog is barking) and bark (bark on a tree), bat (baseball bat) and bat (a flying creature), park (a place with trees) and park (to park a car).


Homographs are the words that are written in the same way, but have different meaning. There is no agreement yet about whether the spelling must be similar or different. Various sources and dictionaries have different opinions on this matter. Oxford English Dictionary also insists that words must be of different origin for them to be considered homographs and not just homonyms or homophones. Here are some classical examples of homographs: desert (to abandon) and desert (a dry landscape), refuse (to reject) and refuse (garbage), present (to show) and present (a gift). You see that all these examples pronounced in a different way, with stress emphasized in bold. If you are not native English speaker it might be more complicated for you to find homographs because the pronunciation of the words doesn’t come naturally to you. In this case it is recommended that you use pronunciation option in online dictionaries or look at the transcription of a word in square brackets, where the stress is shown.

How Not to Get Confused

You see that the definitions of homonyms, homographs, and homophones are very similar and there is really hard to tell one from another. Thus, it is no wonder that so many people confuse these words. Since they are very similar, it will not be considered a big mistake if you call some word a homonym instead of homophone. What is more important, is not to remember their definitions and differences, but is the ability to use a proper word in your writing. It doesn’t matter if you are not sure whether to call a certain word a homograph. The most important is that you don’t write: his life was at steak, when you need to use a word stake in this context. When you feel lost about some word, there are many resources online that would guide you out of your confusion. If you are a visual person, them this diagram will be a perfect help for you in understanding the differences and similarities of homophones, homographs and homonyms.

Use Editing Online

It is not surprising that even English teachers get confused about the use of homophones, homonyms and homographs. All three concepts are overlapping and many words can belong to a few of these categories at once. In fact, even linguists still cannot come to an agreement about the exact definitions of these concepts. So you should not get too stressed about getting the things right with these 3H words. Most importantly is that you use the right words in your essays and other academic paper. However this is not a problem at all, because our experienced editors and proofreaders can assist you with that. Moreover, if you are in search of inspiration or topics for your essays, you can get those from the free samples of essays, which we regularly post on our blog.

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