Archive for February, 2010

Have you ever imagined the comic effect that would result if you placed one word in place of another? Such as, “that is the end of the tail,” instead of saying, “that is the end of the tale.” Today I plan to discuss homonyms; we use them ever so often, but when asked to explain we tend to go blank( my favorite hobby).  Homonyms can be categorised as words that are spelt the same or have  similar pronunciation but  are different in meaning.

By definition a homonym is (grammar) a word that is spelt like another word (and may be pronounced like it) but which has a different meaning, for example can meaning ‘be able’ and can meaning ‘put sth in a container’(OALD).

Fowler’s Modern English Usage describes homonyms as, “a word of the same spelling or sound as another but of different meaning,”  they have cited the example of  the word, “calf” and “calf“, which has the same spelling as well as pronunciation but differs in meaning. The first meaning could be calf as the young one of a cow, and calf as the fleshy hind part of the human leg. For those words that are identical in sound but not in spelling he has cited the example of “tail” and “tale.” While the former means tail of an animal the latter refers to a narrative or a story.

Words that are same in spelling are known as homographs and those that are same in sound or pronunciation are called homophones. Homographs need not have the same pronuniciation, such as lead and lead, one is a heavy metal and the other means to guide. Other examples could be read and read. Homophones on the other hand just have the same sound, they could have completely different meanings, such as, aloud/allowed. Current/currant. The example that I cited in my introductory paragraph, which is tale and tail is an example of homophones.

So here I list some commonly misused homonyms. The first one is ‘quiet’ and ‘quite’( this though wouldn’t quite fit the definition mentioned above as the spelling differs).

Quiet is an adjective, can also function as a verb and noun. It means making very little noise. You could refer to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary(henceforth OALD) for other meanings of this word.

Quite is an adverb which means fairly, pretty, to a certain degree. “I quite like the book.” For detailed reference, please check the OALD.

The next one in the list is advice and advise. While the former is a noun the latter is a verb. Advice as a noun means, an opinion or a suggestion about what sb should do in a particular situation, e.g. follow your doctor’s advice.

Advise on the other hand means to tell sb what you think they should do in a particular situation, e.g. I would strongly advise against going out on your own.

Magazine and magazine. A noun in both cases, one refers to a thin book containing articles, discussions, photos on a particular topic or maybe a mixed bag of articles.

Magazine also means the part of a gun that holds bullets before they are fired. It also refers to a room or building where weapons, explosives and bullets are stored.

article and article. This word actually has 4 different meanings. In each case however it is a noun. The first article is a piece of writing on a particular subject in a newspaper or magazine.

The second meaning has a legal reference. A separate item in an agreement or a contract.

The third refers to a particular item or a separate thing.Especially one of a set.

The fourth has grammatical reference, one of the three articles, ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’.

Kind and Kind. Here too both are adjectives but they have different meanings. The first refers to, a group of people or things that are the same in some way; a particular variety or type.

The second refers to, caring about others; gentle, friendly and generous.

Type and type, used both as a noun and verb, this word has 4  different meanings. The first one is synonymous with kind and means, a class or group of people that share particular qualities or features.

The second meaning is similar to the above meaning but has a slightly different connotation. This is used informally and means a person of a particular character, with particular features etc. Such as she is the artistic type, he is not my type etc.

The third meaning too refers to the same thing as above but has a slightly different connotation. This means, having the qualities or features of the group, person or thing mentioned, such as, a police-type badge, a continental-type-cafe.

The fourth meaning refers to the act of typing letters or words. Here type is used as a verb.

Watch this space for more such lists. I intend to devote a post to the usage of colon, comma, apostrophe and the much maligned passive voice.


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