What are homophones?

Maybe you’ve heard about homophones… or maybe not. It is important to know what homophones are in order to be able to recognize and differentiate them whenever necessary. They have nothing to do with polysemous words, so you also have to know what the differences are between both types of words, even if they look alike.


Homophones are those that are pronounced the same way, they can be written exactly the same but in reality, they can have different meanings. To better understand homophones, it is important to understand what homonymy is.

Homonymy is the quality of two words that have different origins and meanings due to historical evolution, but that have the same form (they are pronounced or written the same). Homonymous words have some characteristics that you should know about:

  • They have a different etymological origin
  • They can have different grammatical categories
  • They can be written differently
  • In the dictionary they have different entries

They can be homographs or heterographs

Following the last point you have to differentiate heterograph words from homograph words. Heterograph words are pronounced the same but written differently, for example: cow (animal) and roof rack (metal accessory that is attached to the roof of vehicles to increase their load capacity). As for homograph words, they are pronounced and spelled the same, for example: comma (punctuation mark or prolonged unconsciousness).

Depending on where you live, words may be homophones in some places and in others don’t. In places with yeísmo, arrollo sounds the same as a stream and in this case they would be homophones. In places where there is seseo, the same thing happens, where, for example, house and hunt are pronounced the same.

Homophone words examples

Difference between homophones and polysemic words

At this point it is a good idea to know the difference between homophones and polysemic words. The difference is subtle since polysemics are also spelled the same but have different meanings. What is polysemy?

Polysemic words

Polysemic words occur when the same word has several meanings and the difference with homograph words is that in polysemic words they have the same origin etymological and belong to the same grammatical category. 5 examples:

  • Bota: “footwear” or “leather bag to store wine”
  • Coffee: “color” or “drink made with a seed of the coffee plant coffee”
  • Calculator: “device for making calculations” or “person who is very meticulous”
  • Footwear: “to wear something or put on a shoe” or “shoe”
  • Arm: “assemble something or build it” or “get weapons for combat”
  • Dig “act of digging and digging a hole” or “sparkling wine”

To find out if the words have the same etymological origin but you don’t know if a word is polysemic or homonymous, you have to look it up in the dictionary, if you find it in a single entry with several meanings, then it is polysemic , otherwise it would be homonymous, that easy!

Examples of homophones

  • A (first letter of the alphabet) and Ha (of the verb haber)
  • Abollar (make dents to a metal object) and Aboyar (place buoys in the sea to stop nets or ha limitations)
  • Roof rack (top part of a car used to transport things) and Cow (ruminant animal)
  • Bario (white and silver-colored metal) and Vario (miscellaneous)
  • Baron (nobility title) and Varón (man)
  • Cape (extreme, wick or military rank) and Cavo (from the verb to dig)
  • Discard (comes from discard) and Deshecha (comes from undoing)
  • Sabia (someone with wisdom) and Savia (vegetable juice)
  • Sake (alcoholic rice drink made in Japan) and Saque (from the verb pull out)