A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms. Homophones that are spelled differently are also called heterographs. The term "homophone" may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter or group of letters.
The word derives from the Greek homo- (ὁμο-), "same", and phōnḗ (φωνή), "voice, utterance".
In wordplay and games 
Homophones are often used to create puns and to deceive the reader (as in crossword puzzles) or to suggest multiple meanings. The last usage is common in poetry and creative literature. An example of this is seen in Dylan Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood: "The shops in mourning" where mourning can be heard as mourning or morning. Another vivid example is Thomas Hood's use of "birth" and "berth" and "told" and "toll'd" (tolled) in his poem "Faithless Sally Brown":
- His death, which happen'd in his berth,
- At forty-odd befell:
- They went and told the sexton, and
- The sexton toll'd the bell.
In some accents, various sounds have merged in that they are no longer distinctive, and thus words that differ only by those sounds in an accent that maintains the distinction (a minimal pair) are homophonous in the accent with the merger. Some examples from English are:
- pin and pen in many southern American accents.
- merry, marry, and Mary in most American accents.
- The pairs do, due and forward, foreword are homophonous in most American accents but not in most British accents.
- The pairs talk, torque, and court, caught are distinguished in rhotic accents such as Scottish English and most dialects of American English, but are homophones in many non-rhotic accents such as British Received Pronunciation.
Wordplay is particularly common in English because the multiplicity of linguistic influences offers considerable complication in spelling and meaning and pronunciation compared with other languages.
Homophones of multiple words or phrases (as sometimes seen in word games) are also known as "oronyms". This term was coined by Gyles Brandreth and first published in his book The Joy of Lex (1980), and it was used in the BBC programme Never Mind the Full Stops, which also featured Brandreth as a guest.
Examples of "oronyms" (which may only be true homophones in certain dialects of English) include:
- "ice cream" vs. "I scream" (as in the popular song "I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.")
- "euthanasia" vs. "Youth in Asia"
- "depend" vs. "deep end"
- "Gemini" vs. "Jim and I" and also vs. "Jem in eye"
- "the sky" vs. "this guy" (most notably as a mondegreen in Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix)
- "four candles" vs. "fork handles"
- "sand which is there" vs. "sandwiches there"
- "example" vs. "egg sample"
- "foxhole" vs. "Vauxhall" vs. "Vauxhall"
- "big hand" vs. "began" vs. "Mégane" vs. "Meg's hand"
- "some others" vs. "some mothers" and also vs. "smothers"
- "minute" vs. "my newt"
- "Ruth" vs. "roof"
- "Cougar" vs. "Kuga"
- "real eyes" vs. "realize" vs. "real lies"
- "Honda" vs. "Hyundai"
- "a dressed male" vs. "addressed mail"
- "them all" vs. "the mall"
- "see" vs. "sea"
In his Appalachian comedy routine, American comedian Jeff Foxworthy frequently uses oronyms which play on exaggerated "country" accents. Notable examples include:
- Initiate: "My wife ate two sandwiches, initiate [and then she ate] a bag o' tater chips."
Mayonnaise: "Mayonnaise [Man, there is] a lot of people here tonight."
Innuendo: "Hey dude I saw a bird fly innuendo [in your window]."
Moustache: "I Moustache [must ask] you a question."
How many homonyms are there? 
There are sites, for example, http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~jburkardt/fun/wordplay/multinyms.html which have lists of homonyms or rather homophones and even 'multinyms' which have as many as seven spellings. There are differences in such lists due to dialect pronunciations and usage of old words. In English, there are approximately 88 triples; 24 quadruples; 2 quintuples; 1 sextet and 1 septet. The septet is:
- Raise, rays, rase, raze, rehs, réis, res
Other than the three common words (raise, rays and raze), there is:
- rase - a verb meaning "to erase";
- rehs - the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India;
- réis - the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil;
- res - the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale;
Use in psychological research 
Pseudo-homophones are pseudowords that are phonetically identical to a word. For example, groan/grone and crane/crain are pseudo-homophone pairs, whereas plane/plain is a homophone pair since both letter strings are recognised words. Both types of pairs are used in lexical decision tasks to investigate word recognition.
Use as ambiguous information 
Homophones where one spelling is of a threatening nature and one is not (e.g. slay/sleigh, war/wore) have been used in studies of anxiety as a test of cognitive models that those with high anxiety tend to interpret ambiguous information in a threatening manner.
See also 
- Heterography and homography
- Heteronym (linguistics)
- Dajare, a type of wordplay involving similar-sounding phrases
- According to the strict sense of homonyms as words with the same spelling and pronunciation; however, homonyms according to the loose sense common in nontechnical contexts are words with the same spelling or pronunciation, in which case all homophones are also homonyms. Random House Unabridged Dictionary entry for "homonym" at Dictionary.com
- Martin, R. C. (1982). The pseudohomophone effect: The role of visual similarity in nonword decisions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 34A, 395-409.
- Mogg K, Bradley BP, Miller T, Potts H, Glenwright J, Kentish J (1994). Interpretation of homophones related to threat: Anxiety or response bias effects? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 18(5), 461-77
|Look up homophone in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|