[hom-uh-fohn, hoh-muh-]
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 two and too, or "know" and "no". A homophone is a type of homonym, although sometimes homonym is used to refer only to homophones that have the same spelling but different meanings. The term may also be used to apply to units shorter than words, such as letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another letter or group of letters.

The prefix, "homo" means the "same". "Phone" means "sound". "Graph" in homograph means "writing".

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' & 'berth' and "told' & '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.

Homophones in the context of 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

'mint spy' vs 'mince pie';
'ice cream' vs. 'I scream'
'stuffy nose' vs. 'stuff he knows';
'euthanasia' vs. 'youth in Asia';
'i.c.u.' vs. 'I see you'.
'depend' vs. 'deep end'
'the sky' vs. 'this guy'
'four candles' vs. 'fork handles'
'insinuate' vs. 'in sin you ate'
'Sand which is there' vs. Sandwiches there'
Two oronyms appear in "Ana's Song (Open Fire)" by Silverchair. While they initially sound like mondegreens, reading the lyrics will reveal that this is not the case. The first line of the song, "Please die Ana, for as long as you're here we're not", also sounds very much like "Please Diana, ...", which confuses people into believing that "Ana" is a person, when really it is just a nickname for anorexia. The next verse is "And Ana wrecks your life, like an anorexia life", which is another oronym that proves "ana's" real meaning.

American comedian Jeff Foxworthy frequently uses oronyms in his Appalachian routine. Notable examples include, "Initiate: My wife ate two sandwiches, initiate (and then she ate) a bag o' tater chips." and "Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise (Man, there is) a lot of people here tonight."

Mad Gab is a team oronym solving game.

Use in psychological research


Pseudo-homophones are non-words that are phonetically identical to a word. Pseudo-homophone pairs are pairs of phonetically identical letter strings where one string is a word and the other is a non-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 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.


Homophones also appear sometimes in dreams; see dream pun.

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