Handling Homophones and Other Sound-Alikes

What are homophones? They’re words that sound alike and might have the same spelling but have different meanings.

English can be a bit mind-boggling at times, and one of those times is when we’re dealing with homophones or other commonly confused words. We can understand various types of words by understanding the names we assign to them. It helps to be familiar with the roots that make up these terms:

homo = same
hetero = different
phon = sound
graph = written
onym = name

So, for example, homophones have the same sounds, while heterographs have different spellings.

Let’s look at a list of homophones and other words that overlap in sound, meaning, or spelling so you can see how to tell them apart.

Types of homophones

Homophones: same sound, possibly different spelling, different meaning

The category of homophones overlaps with two other categories: homonyms and heterographs. Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and/or the same sound but different meanings, and heterographs are words that have the same sound but different spellings and meanings. So, homonyms and heterographs that have the same sound are homophones.

The homophone examples with sentences below can help make some of their common meanings clearer.
Homonyms: same spelling and/or sound, different meaning

  • rate: (noun) an amount of money charged per unit
    He asked for a higher rate to account for inflation.
    rate: (verb) to rank something
    That restaurant was amazing. I rated it five stars.
  • row: (verb) to propel a boat using oars
    “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…”
    roe: (noun) fish eggs
    My favorite sushi is the one with salmon roe.
  • stamp: (noun) a sticker that denotes you’ve paid to send mail
    Back in the old days, we had to lick the back of a stamp to make it stick to the envelope.
    stamp: (verb) to hit the ground with your foot firmly
    “I’ll never go out with you!” she yelled, stamping her foot.
  • mean: (noun) average
    Find the mean of the set of numbers.
    mean: (adjective) rude or petty
    Why are you being so mean to me?
  • veil: (noun) a woman’s face covering
    The groom lifted the bride’s veil to give her a kiss.
    vale: (noun) a valley
    The rain ran down the mountain and settled in the vale.
  • meet: (verb) to come together
    I talked to a friend online and she asked if we could meet.
    meat: (noun) animal flesh eaten as food
    Would you like some meat with your rice and vegetables?
  • right: (adjective) correct
    I believe I have the right answer.
    write: (verb) to record something by creating symbols on an item such as paper or in a digital format
    He decided to write his memoir after he retired from a 40-year career.

Heterographs: same sound, different spelling and meaning

  • faze, phase
  • site, cite, sight
  • wave, waive
  • to, too, two
  • pic, pick
  • their, there, they’re
  • toe, tow

Other types of similar words

Besides sounding alike, words can have the same or similar spellings or have the same meaning. We’ve collected some examples for you below.


Homographs are words that are spelled alike but have different meanings and might have different sounds. So, they can include heteronyms, which have the same spelling but different sounds and meanings, and they can overlap with homonyms that are not spelled alike. Therefore, both homographs and heteronyms can be homonyms, but they’re not necessarily homophones.

Yes, you read that right: homonyms can also be heteronyms. Whew—English is something, huh?

Homographs: same spelling, different meaning, possibly different sound

  • bear: (noun) a type of large furry animal
    bear: (verb) to hold a burden
  • bow: (noun) the front of a ship
    bow: (verb) to bend at the waist to show respect or honor
  • fine: (adjective) high-quality
    fine: (noun) money required as a penalty
  • object: (noun) a thing or goal
    object: (verb) to oppose or disagree
  • wind: (noun) movement of air
    wind: (verb) to rotate or wrap something around a central object

Heteronyms: same spelling, different meaning and sound

  • bow: (noun) a weapon used to shoot an arrow
    bow: (verb) to bend at the waist to show respect or honor
  • row: (noun) a fight
    row: (verb) to propel a boat using oars
  • tear: (noun) a drop of salty liquid that falls from the eye
    tear: (verb) to divide a thin material, such as paper, into two pieces without cutting
  • house: (noun) a building designed to live in
    house: (verb) to provide a building for people to live in


Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meaning but different sounds and spellings.

  • mean, average
  • house, residence
  • rule, law, regulation
  • cat, feline, kitty
  • room, space, area

Homophonic words and phrases

Many words and phrases are not homophones but sound similar. For example, they often come to our attention when people misunderstand song lyrics:

  • “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” (“Hold me closer, tiny dancer” – “Tiny Dancer,” Elton John)
  • “Saving his life from this warm sausage tea” (“Spare him his life from this monstrosity” – “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen)
  • “Here we are now, in containers” (“Here we are now, entertain us” – “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana)

They also show up in phrases like “bone apple tea,” a mispronunciation of bon appetít, which means “good appetite” in French. It originated in a post on the WorldStarHipHop Facebook page and went on to become a meme and inspire a Reddit page.

Besides these miscommunications, there are other homophonic words that don’t truly sound alike but are similar enough to be confusing. These differ from the homophone examples above because they don’t have the same sound, spelling, or meaning:

Easy ways to understand homophones

In short, words that sound the same are homophones, and they may or may not also have the same spelling or the same meaning. Even if the homophone examples above were helpful, you may still need a simple breakdown of how these terms are alike and different. Here’s a handy diagram and table to help you keep them straight.

Word Type Sound Shared Spelling Meaning



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Frequently asked questions about homphones

What is the difference between the homophones their, there, and they’re?

Their shows possession. There shows where something is or that it exists. And they’re is a contraction of they are.

Do words have to be spelled the same to be homophones?

They may be spelled the same, but they don’t have to be. Words that have the same sound and same spelling are homonyms and may also be homophones or homographs.

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Hannah Skaggs

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.