Homophones vs. Homonyms: What’s the Difference?

Posted by on July 1st, 2016

Homophones and homonyms are among the most confusing grammatical concepts within the English Language Arts skills content areas. In many cases, English is not pronounced the way it is written; there are variants in distinction for students especially when listening to dictated exercises. In order for students to successfully identify homophones and homonyms, they must have a solid understanding of the meanings.


Homophones are words with different meanings, and sometimes spellings, which sound the same. Examples of homophones are to, too and two. There, they’re and there are also commonly misused homophones.


Homonyms are two or more words with the same spelling and pronunciation with different meanings. Common homonyms include bat (animal and baseball bat), bark (tree bark and dog bark), and fair (price and amusement location).


Because their sound is so similar and their meanings related as well, homonyms and homophones can prove difficult for learners to separate and recognize. Students, including English as Second Language (ESL) learners, should receive direct instruction on the differences and similarities of homonyms and homophones. They should also have access to activities that will allow them to demonstrate their knowledge. Many lessons and activities are available to teach adult students the difference between homonyms and homophones:


A to Z

Have students list the letters of the alphabet and try to come up with as many homonym and homophone pairs for each letter as they can. This activity can be done in groups. It can also be an ongoing list where students add new pairs as they come across them.


Flash Cards

Allow students to create flash cards with homonyms on one side and their various meanings on the other side.


Homophone Pictionary

Have students draw pictures of homophone pairs. Have the other students or groups guess the pair. This activity can be done similarly with homonyms by having students guess the homonyms being depicted.


Read Aloud

Read a passage, or text, aloud. Have students note the instances of homonyms they hear throughout the reading. This activity can also be used as a mini-assessment to see how well students are mastering the concepts.


Sample Sentences

Arrange various sentences and have students choose the appropriate homophone to use.


Scavenger Hunt

Allow students to go on a scavenger hunt around the classroom to find examples of homophones and homonyms.


Homonyms and homophones can be confusing, but they do not have to be. The use of interactive lessons and activities serve as a strong way to ensure that students understand the concepts both in theory and in practice. Flash cards, Pictionary and other interactive lessons give learners opportunities to apply the knowledge they have learned through lecture and demonstration in actual related activities. The activities help strengthen student ability to accurately recognize the homonyms and homophones in isolated and contextual occurrences.


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