Homograph: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Ben Nickol
This lesson will examine the homograph, a phenomenon of language whereby two distinct words, with two distinct meanings, share the same spelling. The lesson also will illustrate the confusion that can arise from poor awareness of homographs.

Definition

Imagine you're the casting director of a film about lead mining in Missouri. As casting director, you need to recruit actors. The main role in the film is a tough miner with a drinking problem who works hard to provide for his family. You think Matt Damon would be perfect for the role, and so write him an email. But in your email, you write:

Dear Matt--Got a great role for you. Get back to me as soon as possible. It's a picture about lead mining in Missouri, and we want you to play the lead.

What would be the problem with that? Is it possible Mr. Damon, who doesn't know you well, will decline the role because he thinks you're asking him to play the lead (the metal extracted from the ground), as opposed to the lead (the starring role)?

Well, probably not. But still, what you've run into with this hypothetical email is a problem of homographs, which are separate words with separate definitions that happen to share identical spellings (the word comes from the roots homo and graph, which together mean literally 'written the same'). While homograph problems aren't necessarily common, they can present trouble, especially when corresponding with people who are not very familiar with written English.

Common Homographs

Below is a list of common homographs. Be aware of these, so as to avoid any homograph confusion.

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