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Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs for ESL Students

Updated on October 19, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

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Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Homonyms, homophones, and homographs can sometimes be very confusing and difficult for ESL and EFL learners to understand. Whenever I gave dictation exercises to my students, many kids would mistakenly hear and write they're instead of there. When composing sentences on the board, many pupils would often in error write its instead of It's. On the occasions when students read aloud, many would put the stress on the wrong syllable of words which are used as both nouns and verbs. In many cases, English is not pronounced the way it is written. There are so many words in English which sound alike but have different meanings and spellings. Finally, there are also words which are spelled the same, but they have different meanings with the same or different sound.

This article first explains the meanings of homonym, homophone, and a homograph. It then gives examples of these words which English language learners will encounter in their studies.

What are Homonyms?

Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings. They may or may not be spelled the same. For example, the word fair is spelled and pronounced the same for three words with three different meanings. We may talk about a girl with a fair appearance going to see the county fair. She paid a fair price to get into the fair. The words buy, by, and bye are also homonyms.

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Do you understand the differences among homonyms, homophones, and homographs?

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What are Homophones?


Homophones are types of homonyms. These words sound alike, but they have different meanings and spellings. Anytime my students take a dictation test, a great number will write, They're beaches on the island instead of writing There are beaches on the island. This is because They're and there sound the same. If the students understood the grammatical functions of They're and there, they would not make this mistake. A lot of other pupils have difficulty distinguishing among where, we're, were, and wear which all sound the same but have different meanings.

What are Homographs?

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. These words may have the same or different sound. For example, the word, a tear in her eye, and to tear down the house are homographs. In this situation, tear as a noun and tear as a verb are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have different meanings. Citing another example, a birthday present and to present my friend to my mother indicate the use of present as both a noun and a verb. The pronunciations are different because when present is used as a noun, the stress is on the first syllable of the word. When present is used as a verb, the stress is on the second syllable of the word. Students should be taught the rule that for two syllable words used as both nouns and verbs, the stress is on the first syllable for nouns and on the second syllable for verbs.


Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

Homonyms
Homophones
Homographs
ate - eight
aloud - allowed
read - read
fair - fare
plain - plane
bass - bass
by - buy - bye
son - sun
a tear - to tear
see - sea
one - won
a sow - to sow
It's - its
dear - deer
close - to close
bough - bow
sail - sale
a bow - to bow
lead - led
where - wear
a present - to present
write - right
which - witch
a row - to row
a lie - to lie down
night - knight
a lie - to lie
red - read (past tense)
blew - blue
a record - to record
to - too - two
bored - board
a select - to select
they're - their - there
whose - who's
a reject - to reject
We're - were
been - bin
a return - to return
four - for
been - ben
wind - to wind
a fair - to fair
close - clothes
a rebel - to rebel
flower - flour
be - bee
a desert - to desert
hear - here
hair - hare
a button - to button
seen - scene
sent - scent
a review - to review
a saw - saw (past tense)
a rose - rose (past tense)
a report - to report
meat - meet
rode - road
a consent - to consent
Common Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs Which My Students Encounter in the Classroom

Summary

The smart ESL and EFL teacher should spend extra time making sure that his or her students understand and can use common words used as homonyms, homophones, and homographs. This can only be done through student memorization of the words and constant practice using them every day.

Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

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© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I appreciate your comments!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      My EFL and ESL students always liked it when I introduced idioms in class. I'm very happy you like this hub and think it should be part of every ESL textbook. Thanks again for the great appreciative comments.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Idioms- Thank you! I saw the word in your list of hubs!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This hub should be part of every ESL textbook. When my Arab students would get bored, I'd do an exercise in American sayings that made no sense. (The word escapes me now, naturally.) "It's raining cats and dogs." Invariably, once they understood the meaning and context, they would tell me about a similar expression in Arabic.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      &divakar3368 I appreciate you stopping by and commenting on this hub.

    • divakar3368 profile image

      divakar3368 3 years ago from Maldives

      nice ...very useful..

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Shyron,

      Thank you so much for your praise of this hub. I really appreciate you sharing it.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      Wonderful hub Paul, I really love our English Language, our living language.

      Voted up useful and interesting and will share.

      Shyron (No my name is not a variation of Sharon)

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Moonlake,

      Thank you very much for your comments. I'm thrilled that you found this hub interesting and informative. I appreciate you sharing and pinning this hub.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Thanks teacher very interesting and informative hub. Voted up, share and pinned.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Kathryn,

      Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. I appreciate your good review of this article.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image

      Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      I'm pretty good at English, but at the same time it can be confusing! This is an interesting overview.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Ms. Dora,

      Thank you for reading and commenting on this hub. I really appreciate your praise of me as a teacher. You have made my day!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the lesson. It's good for ESLs as well as the rest of us to keep us sharp. You're good teacher!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Au fait,

      It's great that you find this hub useful instruction! It is true that there are a lot of writers who make mistakes in the use of homonyms, homophones, and homographs. Thank you greatly for sharing this article!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Brett,

      I'm very happy that you find this hub useful for EFL teachers. Through ongoing revisions, many of my students are making fewer mistakes with homonyms, homophones, and homographs. Thank you very much for sharing, tweeting, and pinning this hub!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Very useful instruction. So many people need this article! I can't tell you how often I see the mistakes you write about here in correspondence and even in hubs.

      Voted up, useful, and will share!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      A very useful hub for EFL teachers as this is an extremely common area for mistakes, and a tricky one for students to master. With a few focused classes and ongoing revision, this area could be greatly improved.

      Shared, pinned, tweeted, up and useful.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      kidscraft,

      Thank you very much for your further comments on this hub. I admire you for immersing yourself into English and learning it well as an adult!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Stephanie,

      Thank you very much for your great comments. They are very encouraging and I really appreciate them!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      agapsikap,

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I'm very happy that you find this article useful for your kids. I really appreciate your great comments!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      rajan,

      I'm elated that you found this hub interesting, educative, and useful. Let me express my great appreciation for you sharing and pinning this article!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I don't know if there are more homonyms, homophones, and homographs in French than English. As a kid, I don't remember learning about that in French.... but I taught them as a teacher (but I was not in the same country). As for Enghish, I learned English just by living in an English speaking country as an adult (shopping, reading, talking, watching television, etc.) So I still make a lot of mistakes but I am slowly getting better :-)

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Great explanation of homonyms. These trip students up (ESL or not) all the time.

    • agapsikap profile image

      agapsikap 4 years ago from Philippines

      This is really great. We know for a fact, kids these days try to research online with regards to their assignments or homeworks. I myself is not a native english speaker. It is indeed very useful and informative. I have to print this for my kids. Voted up and awesome!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Thanks for this educative lesson. Though I can use the correct for of these terms and the words associated with the terms, it was like, back to school time days. Thanks.

      Voted up, useful, interesting, sharing and pinning.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      livingsta,

      Thank you for commenting on this hub. I'm glad you found this topic useful and I'm really grateful for you sharing this hub.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Bill,

      Thank you so much for your very interesting comments. Yes, I can see how many people can hate the English language when you run into homonyms like fair and fare.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      kidscraft,

      Thank you so much for commenting on this hub. I'm very happy you like this hub and find it useful. Does French have more homonyms, homophones, and homographs than English?

    • livingsta profile image

      livingsta 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is useful information for anyone learning the English language. Sometimes even native English speakers get confused with the usage of these words. Thank you for sharing this with us Paul. Voted up, useful and sharing!

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 4 years ago from Cape Cod

      Hi Paul.

      I must say this is great fare - but not suitable for the spelling bee at the County Fair. If I asked a fair young lady to spell fare, she might intone

      F-A- I- R and to be fair it does sound correct. But the fare I wanted is the price of passage from Boston to Los Angeles.

      Huh!!!!! This is why we often HATE the English language!!!!!!!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I love the graphic you use on top of your article! It explains a lot of things visually!

      I had to teach the same in French to my students..... some of whom who had English or another language as a first language!

      Great hub and subject so important to teach well! Thanks for sharing!