Definition of homonyms, types of homonyms, their classification

Englih vocabulary as a system. Homonyms. Synonyms

Definition of homonyms, types of homonyms, their classification

Sources of homonyms in English

3. Definition of the term synonyms

A synonymic set and its synonymic dominant

Classification of synonyms

Sources of synonyms

Definition of homonyms, types of homonyms, their classification

In a simple code each sign has only one meaning, and each meaning is associated with only one sign. This one-to-one relationship is not realised in natural languages. When several related meanings are associated with the same group of sounds within one part of speech, the word is called polysemantic, when two or more unrelated meanings are associated with the same form the words are homonyms, when two or more different forms are associated with the same or nearly the same denotative meanings the words are synonyms.

Words identical in sound-form but different in meaning are termed homonyms. The term is derived from Greek homonymous (homos the same and onoma name) and thus expresses very well the sameness of name combined with the difference in meaning. Modern English is exceptionally rich in homonymous words and word-forms. It is held that languages where short words abound have more homonyms than those where longer words are prevalent. Therefore it is sometimes suggested that abundance of homonyms in Modern English is to be accounted for by the monosyllabic structure of the commonly used English words.


When analysing different cases of homonymy we find that some words are homonymous in all their forms, i.e. we observe full homonymy of the paradigms of two or more different words, e.g., in seal1 a sea animal and seal2 a design printed on paper by means of a stamp. The paradigm seal, seals, seals, seals is identical for both of them and gives no indication of whether it is seal1 or seal2, that we are analysing. In other cases, e.g. seal1 a sea animal and (to) seal, to close tightly, we see that although some individual word- forms are homonymous, the whole of the paradigm is not identical. Compare, for instance, the paradigms: seal1 (to) seal3

seal seal

seals seals

seals sealed

seals sealing, etc.

It is easily observed that only some of the word-forms (e.g. seal, seals, etc.) are homonymous, whereas others (e.g. sealed, sealing) are not. In such cases we cannot speak of homonymous words but only of homonymy of individual word-forms or of partial homonymy. This is true of a number of other cases, e.g. compare find [faind], found [faund], found [faund], and found [faund], founded ['faundid], founded ['faundid]; know [nou], knows [nouz], knew [nju:], and no [nou]; nose [nouz], noses ['nouzis]; new [nju:] in which partial homonymy is observed.

Consequently all cases of homonymy may be classified into full and partial homonymy i.e. homonymy of words and homonymy of individual word-forms.

The bulk of full homonyms are to be found within the same parts of speech (e.g. seal1 n seal2 n), partial homonymy as a rule is observed in word-forms belonging to different parts of speech (e.g. seal1 n seal3 v). This is not to say that partial homonymy is impossible within one part of speech. For instance in the case of the two verbs lie [lai] to be in a horizontal or resting position and He [lai] to make an untrue statement' we also find partial homonymy as only two word-forms [lai], [laiz] are homonymous, all other forms of the two verbs are different. Cases of full homonymy may be found in different parts of speech too; e.g. for [fo:] preposition, for [fo:] conjunction and four [fo:] numeral, as these parts of speech have no other word-forms.

Homonyms may be also classified by the type of meaning into lexical, lexico-grammatical and grammatical homonyms. In seal1 n and seal2 n, e.g., the part-of-speech meaning of the word and the grammatical meanings of all its forms are identical (cf. seal [si:l] Common Case Singular, seals [si:lz] Possessive Case Singular for both seal1 and seal2). The difference is confined to the lexical meaning only: seal1 denotes a sea animal, the fur of this animal, etc., seal2 a design printed on paper, the stamp by which the design is made, etc. So we can say that seal2 and seal1 are lexical homonyms because they differ in lexical meaning.

If we compare seal1 a sea animal, and (to) seal3 to close tightly, we shall observe not only a difference in the lexical meaning of their homonymous word-forms but a difference in their grammatical meanings as well. Identical sound-forms, i.e. seals [si:lz] (Common Case Plural of the noun) and (he) seals [si:lz] (third person Singular of the verb) possess each of them different grammatical meanings. As both grammatical and lexical meanings differ we describe these homonymous word-forms as lexico-grammatical.

Lexico-grammatical homonymy generally implies that the homonyms in question belong to different parts of speech as the part-of-speech meaning is a blend of the lexical and grammatical semantic components. There may be cases however when lexico-grammatical homonymy is observed within the same part of speech, e.g., in the verbs (to) find [faind] and (to) found [faund], where the homonymic word-forms: found [faund] Past Tense of (to) find and found [faund] Present Tense of (to) found differ both grammatically and lexically.

Modern English abounds in homonymic word-forms differing in grammatical meaning only. In the paradigms of the majority of verbs the form of the Past Tense is homonymous with the form of Participle II, e.g. asked [a:skt] asked [a:skt]; in the paradigm of nouns we usually find homonymous forms of the Possessive Case Singular and the Common Case Plural, e.g. brothers ['br0Dqz] brothers ['br0Dqz]. It may be easily observed that grammatical homonymy is the homonymy of different word-forms of one and the same word.

The two classifications: full and partial homonymy and lexical, lexico-grammatical and grammatical homonymy are not mutually exclusive. All homonyms may be described on the basis of the two criteria homonymy of all forms of the word or only some of the word-forms and also by the type of meaning in which homonymous words or word-forms differ. So we speak of the full lexical homonymy of sea1 n and seal2 n, of the partial lexical homonymy of lie1 v and lie2 v, and of the partial lexico-grammatical homonymy of seal1 n and seal3 v.

The most widely accepted classification is that recognising homonyms proper, homophones and homographs.

Homographs are words identical in spelling, but different both in their sound-form and meaning, e.g. bow n [bou] a piece of wood curved by a string and used for shooting arrows and bow n [bau] the bending of the head or body; tear n [tia] a drop of water that comes from the eye and tear v [tea] to pull apart by force.

Homophones are words identical in sound-form but different both in spelling and in meaning, e.g. sea n and see v; son n and sun n.

In the sentence The play-wright on my right thinks it right that some conventional rite should symbolise the right of every man to write as he pleases the sound complex [rait] is a noun, an adjective, an adverb and a verb, has four different spellings and six different meanings. The difference may be confined to the use of a capital letter as in bill and Bill, in the following example: How much is my milk bill? Excuse me, Madam, but my name is John On the other hand, whole sentences may be homophonic: The sons raise meat : : The suns rays meet. To understand these one needs a wider context. If you hear the second in the course of a lecture in optics, you will understand it without thinking of the possibility of the first.

Perfect homonyms are words identical both in spelling and in sound-form but different in meaning, e.g. case1 n something that has happened and case2 n a box, a container.


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