Words With Multiple Meanings

A wealth of words with multiple meanings exist in the English language. Technically, almost every word has multiple meanings. How often do you look up a word in the dictionary and find only one meaning listed next to it? Practically never! It’s common for words to have slightly varying meanings, but the meanings of homonyms and homographs differ in substantive ways.

homonym example crane homonym example crane
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Homonym Examples

Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings. It's tricky when words sound the same but can mean different things. This is where context clues come into play. Even though one word can morph into multiple meanings, the rest of the sentence should give you an idea of what's being discussed. There are many examples of homonyms.

  • arm
    I have an ant bite on my arm.
    It’s important to arm yourself with a solid education.
  • bark
    I hope her dog doesn’t bark when I knock on the door.
    The tree bark is rough to the touch.
    I love eating pretzels covered with almond bark.
  • clip
    I enjoyed watching a clip from that video.
    My mom is going to clip my hair.
    The boat is moving at a fairly fast clip.
  • crane
    That bird is a crane.
    They had to use a crane to lift the object.
    She had to crane her neck to see the movie.
  • date
    Her favorite fruit to eat is a date.
    Joe took Alexandria out on a date.
    Not to date myself, but I remember listening to radio shows as a kid.
    What is your date of birth?
  • dough
    I will make a batch of cookie dough.
    After I get paid, I’ll have enough dough to go to the arcade.
  • drop
    I hope I don’t drop my books.
    I enjoyed every last drop of my milkshake.
  • engaged
    They got engaged on March 7th.
    The students were very engaged in the presentation.
  • fall
    I love cool, crisp fall weather.
    Don’t fall on your way to the gym.
  • foil
    Please wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil.
    They learned about the role of a dramatic foil in English class.
  • feet
    My feet hurt.
    The desks are how many feet long?
  • leaves
    The children love to play in the leaves.
    They do not like when their father leaves for work.
  • left
    She left her book in her locker last night.
    My left foot really hurts.
  • letter
    My boyfriend earned a letter in track.
    I received a letter from my summer camp roommate.
    I can’t wait to see what letter grade I get in English.
  • net
    What was your net gain for the year?
    Crabbing is easier if you bring a net.
  • park
    I don’t know how to parallel park.
    I’m taking my dog for a walk at the park.
  • point
    The pencil has a sharp point.
    It is not polite to point at people.
  • right
    You were right.
    Make a right turn at the light.
    Access to clean water is a basic human right.
  • peer
    The article was published in a peer reviewed journal.
    I really want to peer inside the bag she is carrying.
  • rose
    My favorite flower is a rose.
    He quickly rose from his seat.
  • scale
    What is the scale on that map?
    I dread seeing the number on the bathroom scale.
  • ship
    I need to ship this package.
    I am a little nervous about traveling on a ship.
  • sink
    The bathroom sink is clogged.
    I felt my heart sink when Susie announced that she is moving away.
  • tie
    The game ended in a tie.
    I need to tie my hair back.
    I hate wearing a tie when I have to get dressed up.
  • train
    He is taking a class to train for a new job.
    She took a cross-country trip on a train.
  • type
    He can type over 100 words per minute.
    That guy is really not her type.
  • watch
    Please watch your little sister.
    I need a new watch battery.
  • wave
    I will wave when I see you in the parade.
    Will there be another wave of illness in the spring?
    I dream of surfing the perfect wave.

Homograph Examples

Homographs are words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings. As far as speech, this makes homographs easy to distinguish. However, when reading, it’s necessary to rely on context clues. There are many examples of homographs.

  • bass
    They caught a bass on their fishing trip.
    His voice belongs in the bass section.
  • bow
    She put a bow in her daughter's hair.
    Please bow down to the emperor.
  • does
    He does his homework every night.
    There were many bucks and does in the forest.
  • learned
    The class learned that information last week.
    He is a very learned individual.
  • minute
    That is only a minute problem.
    Wait a minute!
  • read
    She is going to read the book later.
    He read the book last night.
  • sewer
    The rats crept through the sewer.
    She is a fine sewer and fixed my torn dress.
  • sow
    A sow is a female pig.
    We'll sow the seeds in springtime.
  • wind
    The wind swept up the leaves.
    Wind the clock up before you go to bed.
  • wound
    They wound up the toy as soon as they got it.
    She received a wound from the punch.
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Homophone Examples

While not exactly the same as words that have more than one meaning, homophones are closely related to homonyms and homographs. Homophones are words that are pronounced the same, but have different spellings and meanings. These words sound the same in speech, but their spellings and meanings are different. There are many examples of homophones.

  • alter/altar
    How did you alter your identity?
    Let's go worship the Lord at the altar.
  • ate/eight
    Together, we ate three large pizza pies.
    There were eight of us in total.
  • band/banned
    Let's go watch my favorite band perform at the theatre.
    We banned together in support of her new music.
  • blew/blue
    Caleb blew out his birthday candles.
    I can't believe he bought blue suede shoes.
  • boar/bore
    They had to hunt boar to survive on the deserted island.
    Please do not bore me.
  • buy/bye/by
    Why did she buy a $1,400 purse?
    I wish we didn't have to say bye.
    Don't let life pass you by.
  • canon/cannon
    The canon law of the Catholic church offers rules to live by.
    Let's go look at the old cannon at Fort Henry.
  • coarse/course
    The horse had a coarse mane.
    She teaches a really difficult course.
  • fair/fare
    Even though her course is tough, she's a fair professor.
    Do you have our bus fare?
    Wow, he isn't going to fare well in Congress.
  • foul/fowl
    This tea gives off a really foul smell.
    Did you know ducks are a type of fowl?
  • genes/jeans
    They have the same Scottish genes.
    I'd like to buy a pair of dark wash jeans.
  • grate/great
    Her heel got stuck in a New York City grate.
    Will you grate the cheese while I chop the garlic?
    Your fettucini alfredo was great.
  • hour/our
    She teaches a two-hour seminar.
    This is our third trip to Japan.
  • in/inn
    I can't believe she stepped in wet cement.
    Would you like a room at the inn?
  • knight/night
    The queen's former knight haunts the castle.
    I don't want to spend another night at this castle.
  • maize/maze
    She makes her tacos out of maize from Peru.
    This airport is such a maze, I'm not sure we're going to make our flight.
  • meddle/metal/medal
    I wish she wouldn't meddle in my affairs.
    Her incense holder is made of metal.
    She was so proud to win the spelling bee medal.
  • no/know
    There are no more shoes left.
    I don't know where they all went.
  • nose/knows
    Yesterday, she got her nose pierced.
    She knows her parents won't approve.
  • pale/pail
    She has pale skin and freckles.
    He poured paint in the pail.
  • rain/reign/rein
    Don't you love falling asleep to the sound of rain?
    We can't wait to see Will and Kate's reign.
    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer needs a new rein.
  • red/read
    Can I borrow your red lipstick?
    I already read last night's homework assignment.
  • role/roll
    Are you ready to start your new role at the company?
    You have to roll the dough to make a croissant.
  • sea/see
    She moved from the sea to Tennessee.
    Did you see how fast Penny can run?
  • their/there/they're
    We love their new house.
    I asked you to sit over there.
    They're going on a trip to Italy.
  • veil/vale
    Did you see Prince Harry lift Meghan's veil?
    I'd love to live in a cabin in the Vale of Heignesh.
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Shifty Shapeshifters

When it comes to words with multiple meanings, it's wise to read and re-read those sentences. The wrong context or form can change the meaning significantly. It doesn't matter what medium you're writing in. Words with multiple meanings creep up all the time. If you're working on an essay for school, improve your essay writing skills. If you're more focused on short fiction, explore how to write a short story. Either way, make sure you choose the correct words to accurately convey your meaning.