Homonymy is a kind of semantic relation. Two words are homonyms if they are pronounced or spelled the same way but have different meanings.


In thesauri are homonyms often dealt with by using  parenthetical qualifiers, as done in Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors (2001):


One of the most commonly cited examples of a homonymous word is bank, which has a financial institution sense and a edge of a river sense. These senses seem clearly unrelated, and the fact that they are associated with the same word form seems purely accidental. (However, according to Verspoor (1997) has historical linguistics research on Italian revealed that at some point in the development of the Italian language, these two senses of bank actually coincided by virtue of the fact that bankers (lenders of money) sat on the riverbanks while doing their business. So going to the financial institution meant going to the edge of the river, hence to the bank.)


Hobbs (1986, p. 1): "a homophone is one of two or more words pronounced the same ("sounds alike") but different in spelling and meaning, such as cite, sight, and site. On the other hand, a homograph is one of two or more words spelled the same ("look-alikes") but different in sound and meaning, such as tear (separate or pull apart) and tear (secretion from the eye)" (emphasis in original).


Hobbs (1986, p. 3):

"Homonym one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike, but different in meaning. Includes homophones and homographs.

Homophone one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling. Also called homonym.

Homograph one of two or more words spelled alike but differing in meaning or derivation or pronunciation. Also called homonym" (emphasis in original).


Remark that this is somewhat different from the (wrong) definition provided by Wellish (1995, 189-190), who wrote: "Homographs are words having the same spelling but different meanings. They are often called homonyms, but that term, in the strictest sense, refers to words that may or may not be spelled differently but are pronounced the same way, which is not necessarily the case for homographs". 




Hobbs, James B. (comp.). (1986). Homophones and homographs. An American dictionary. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.


Neelameghan, A. (1980). Homonyms in words and pictures. Journal of Information Science, 1(5), 291-292. 

Rao, P. G. (1977). Homonyms in Dewey Decimal Classification, Edition 18 - Case studies. Library Science with a slant to documentation, 14(3-4), 120-123.


Verspoor, C. M. (1997). Contextually-Dependent Lexical Semantics . Edinburgh: The University of Edinburgh. (PhD-dissertation). http://web.archive.org/web/20041015164256/www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~kversp/ftp_html/node152.html

 (Visited June 14, 2006)



Wellish, H. H. (1995). Indexing from A to Z. 2nd edition. New York: H. W. Wilson. (Homographs p. 189-195)


See also: Disambiguation; Polysemy



Birger Hjørland

Last updated: 22-01-2008