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!
Most words have slightly varying meanings, or they can be used as different parts of speech. For now, let's focus on words that have multiple meanings in a broader sense. Together, let's explore homonyms, homophones, and homographs.
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 us an idea of what's being discussed.
Here are some sample sentences illustrating popular homonyms:
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.
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?
They got engaged on March 7th.
The students were very engaged in the presentation.
Please wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil.
They learned about the role of a dramatic foil in English class.
The children love to play in the leaves.
They do not like when their father leaves for work.
What was your net gain for the year?
Crabbing is easier if you bring a net along.
The pencil has a sharp point.
It is not polite to point at people.
You were right.
Make a right turn at the light.
Access to clean water is a basic human right.
My favorite flower is a rose.
He quickly rose from his seat.
He can type over 100 words per minute.
That guy is really not her type.
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and meanings. Here we have a slight variation. These words will sound the same in our speech, but their spellings aren't the same and their meanings certainly aren't.
Enjoy these examples of homophones:
How did you alter your identity?
Let's go worship the Lord at the altar.
Together, we ate three large pizza pies.
There were eight of us in total.
Let's go watch my favorite band perform at the theatre.
We banned together in support of her new music.
Caleb blew out his birthday candles.
I can't believe he bought blue suede shoes.
They had to hunt boar to survive on the deserted island.
Please do not bore me.
Why did she buy a $1,400 purse?
I wish we didn't have to say bye.
Don't let life pass you by.
The canon law of the Catholic church offers rules to live by.
Let's go look at the old cannon at Fort Henry.
The horse had a coarse mane.
She teaches a really difficult course.
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.
This tea gives off a really foul smell.
Did you know ducks are waterfowl?
They have the same Scottish genes.
I'd like to buy a pair of dark wash jeans.
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.
She teaches a two-hour seminar.
This is our third trip to Japan.
I can't believe she stepped in wet cement.
Would you like a room at the inn?
The queen's former knight haunts the castle.
I don't want to spend another night at this castle.
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.
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.
There are no more shoes left.
I don't know where they all went.
Yesterday, she got her nose pierced.
She knows her parents won't approve.
She has pale skin and freckles.
He poured paint in the pail.
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.
Can I borrow your red lipstick?
I already read last night's homework assignment.
Are you ready to start your new role at the company?
You have to roll the dough to make a croissant.
She moved from the sea to Tennessee.
Did you see how fast Penny can run?
We love their new house.
I asked you to sit over there.
They're going on a trip to Italy.
Did you see Prince Harry lift Meghan's veil?
I'd love to live in a cabin in the Vale of Heignesh.
Homographs are words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings. As far as our speech, this makes homographs easy to distinguish. However, when we're reading, we have to be careful to rely on our context clues. Let's take a look:
They caught a bass on their fishing trip.
His voice belongs in the bass section.
She put a bow in her daughter's hair.
Please bow down to the emperor.
He does his homework every night.
There were many bucks and does in the forest.
The class learned that information last week.
He is a very learned individual.
That is only a minute problem.
Wait a minute!
She is going to read the book later.
He read the book last night.
The rats crept through the sewer.
She is a fine sewer and fixed my torn dress.
A sow is a female pig.
We'll sow the seeds in springtime.
The wind swept up the leaves.
Wind the clock up before you go to bed.
They wound up the toy as soon as they got it.
She received a wound from the punch.
When it comes to words with multiple meanings, it's wise to read and re-read those sentences. The wrong form can change your meaning. And 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, check out How to Write an Essay. If you're more focused on short fiction, take a look at How to Write a Short Story. Until then, happy shapeshifting!