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Term Definition

Homographs are words which are spelled the same, but with more than one meaning. Homographs may be pronounced the same (homonyms), or they may be pronounced differently.

Defining a homograph

A homograph consists of a pair of words that are spelled in exactly the same way, but which are in fact different words and have different pronunciations and origins

Logically speaking, then, the homograph could be understood as a kind of coincidence. There is no actual reason why the two words of the homograph have the same spelling, and the meanings of the two words have no relation to each other. It just so happens that the two words are spelled the same way. 

When encountering a homograph in a written passage, the reader can usually make out which one of the words that constitute the homograph should be used on the basis of context. 

Using homograph in a sentence

Here is one example of a homograph in English: "bow" and "bow". On the one hand, "bow" can refer to the physical gesture of bending down at one's waist while standing, usually as a sign of respect. "Bow" used in this fashion is an action (verb). However, "bow" can also mean a weapon that is used to launch arrows. This is a homograph, since the two words are spelled in the exact same way. 

Another example of a homograph is "lead" and "lead". The first word is a verb that refers to one person having others follow him; the second word is a noun that refers to a chemical element. Again, this is a homograph, because the spelling for the two different words is the same. 

The basic rule for the homograph is simply that two different words are spelled in the same way, but remain two separate words. The words of the homograph have different meanings and no intrinsic relationship with each other; that is, there is no logical reason why they ought to be spelled the same way. 

Learning to distinguish the difference

The fact that the two words that form a homograph are spelled in the same way can make it somewhat confusing to distinguish between then when they appear in a written text. However, it is usually simple enough to determine which form of the homograph is intended through attention to context, since each word of the homograph generally has a meaning that is very different from its counterpart. So, if one word doesn't make sense within a given sentence, then this probably means that it is the other word of the homograph that has been intended by the writer. 

Although there is no intrinsic relationship between the two words of the homograph, it is still possible to develop a kind of pun by using both of the words within the same sentence. For example, one could say that the archer shot his bow and then took a bow. This kind of punning is useful for some kinds of poetry and wordplay: a relationship that is not intrinsically meaningful is all of a sudden given a meaning through nothing other than the imagination of the writer. Again, the homograph is formed unintentionally: language just developed in such a way that the two words happen to have the same meaning. But through creativity, the coincidence of the homograph could be transformed into something higher than that. 

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Synonyms: homograph

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