Why Are Homonyms Important for Children to Learn?

Learning homonyms and subtypes helps children understand the context of sentences that contain words with multiple meanings. Knowledge of the complex uses of homonyms teaches children how to write and analyze many forms of figurative language and cryptic wordplay, including puns and idioms.

Homonyms are words with the same spelling and pronunciation that have different meanings. For example, the word “scale” has unrelated noun and verb forms, while the term “fair” has unrelated noun, adjective and adverb forms. The following sentence is an example: “Lisa’s hair is long and fair.” A reader who knows the multiple meanings of the term “fair” can use the context and part of speech to determine that “fair” is an adjective describing a color.

Homographs are a subtype of homonyms and include words that are spelled the same, but always have different meanings and may have different pronunciations, such as “bow” and “desert.” Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings, such as "fare” and "fair." In conversation, a child can’t see the written spelling and must rely on knowledge of the definitions to interpret the speaker. Mixing up homophones in writing changes the meanings of sentences, leading to poor compositions, especially since spell-checker tools frequently overlook these errors. However, advanced comprehension of homonym subtypes lets children interpret double meanings deliberately used in literature, such as “Time flies like a bird. Fruit flies like bananas.”