The English language contains many words with similar or identical spellings and pronunciations but different meanings. Learning the differences between paronyms, homophones, homographs, homonyms, heteronyms, capitonyms, and oronyms is essential for avoiding common and sometimes embarrassing mistakes.
Paronyms are words with similar pronunciations but different spellings and meanings. For example:
- accept – verb – to take or receive that which is offered
- except – preposition – excluding
My mom must accept that my brother likes all vegetables except for turnips.
- collision – noun – crash, clash, conflict
- collusion – noun – a secret agreement that is oftentimes illegal
The collision resulted from the collusion over traffic signs.
Homophones are words with identical pronunciations but different spellings and meanings. For example:
- flour – noun – ground up grain
- flower – noun – the bloom of a plant
While baking a cake with flour, I received a flower from my husband.
- to – preposition
- too – adverb – also
- two – determiner – numeral 2
The mailman delivered two packages to me too.
Homographs are words with identical spellings but different meanings. Homographs may have identical or different pronunciations. For example:
- rose – noun – a type of flower
- rose – verb – simple past form of to rise
The gardener rose early to tend to his rose garden.
- wind – noun – movement of the air
- wind – verb – to tighten, to coil
Wind your scarf tight to keep it from blowing away in the wind.
Homonyms are words with identical spellings and pronunciations but different meanings. Homonyms are also homographs. For example:
- left – adverb – opposite of right
- left – verb – simple past form of to leave
The thief left through the left door.
- stalk – noun – the stem of a plant
- stalk – verb – to follow, to track, to pursue
That creepy stranger stalks the woman who leaves up the flower stalks in the park.
Heteronyms are words with identical spellings but different pronunciations and meanings. Many heteronyms have similar or related origins or meanings. Heteronyms are also homographs. For example:
- house – noun – a dwelling place, a residential building
- house – verb – to place in residence
My new house is big enough to house my entire library of books.
- read – verb – to interpret something written
- read – verb – simple past and past participle forms of to read
Yesterday I read one chapter; today I will read another.
Capitonyms are words with identical spellings except for a difference in the capitalization but different meanings. Capitonyms may have identical or different pronunciations. For example:
- mercury – noun – a chemical element
- Mercury – noun – a planet
The mercury in a regular thermometer would explode on Mercury.
- polish – verb – to shine, to make shiny
- Polish – adjective – originating from Poland
Ask the maid to polish my Polish silverware.
Oronyms are paronymic phrases, phrases with similar pronunciations but different spellings and meanings. For example:
- four candles
- fork handles
The four candles dripped on the silver fork handles.
- I scream
- ice cream
I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice scream.
Learning the differences between paronyms, homophones, homographs, homonyms, heteronyms, capitonyms, and oronyms in the English language is necessary for writers and speakers who wish to avoid embarrassing errors.