English Lessons


Homophones Part II: Homographs

In last month's Yabla English lesson, we discussed heterographs. Today, we'll be taking a look at homographs. These are homophonic words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings. Homographs can be quite confusing in spoken language, because the only way to know the meanings of the words that sound the same is by the context in which they are used. The word "homograph" comes from Ancient Greek and literally means "written the same."


A female brown bear has shown up in the delta with her cub.

Caption 10, Nature & Wildlife - Search for the Ghost Bear

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OK, sure, it looks complicated, but bear with us.

Caption 3, Brexit - What Happens When the UK Leaves the EU?

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The noun "bear" is a large and sometimes dangerous land mammal. The verb "to bear" means to carry something or to go along with something. Thus, somebody who "bears arms" is carrying weapons, and "to bear with somebody" is literally to follow them or figuratively to follow a concept they are explaining. The verb "to bear" can also mean to have children or offspring. Here is an example of a homophone pair in a single sentence: "The mother bear was ready to bear her cubs."


There was a mother duck sitting on her seven eggs.

Caption 6, Fairy Tales - The Ugly Duckling

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I've also always believed that we have to confront big decisions, not duck them.

Caption 36, Brexit - David Cameron Resigns as UK Votes to Leave

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The noun "duck" is a flat-billed water fowl or bird, whereas the verb "to duck" means literally to lower your head for safety, or figuratively to avoid something. Thus the question "Can a duck duck?" is asking if this species of bird is capable of lowering its head for safety. It sounds pretty funny too, right?


Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly.

Caption 23, Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider

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Airplanes fly there every day.

Caption 41, Motorcycle Masters - Birmingham Alabama

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This one is quite easy. The noun "fly" is an insect, and the verb "to fly" is to move through the air. Unless it's in pretty bad health, your average housefly should be able to fly!


We can go by train, by plane, or by bus.

Caption 5, A Weekend in Amsterdam - Planning the Trip

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We don't train them, we don't do anything like that.

Caption 28, Animal Planet - Lions Treat Woman like the Leader of Their Pride

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The noun "train" is the way to travel on railways, and the verb "to train" is to teach or learn by instruction or drill. Since trains are mechanical machines, they can be engineered, but I don't think they can really be "trained" to behave!


Further Learning
Take a look at this list of 299 English homographs and make yourself familiar with some of the words that are new to you. Once you have looked up the definitions to learn what the different meanings are, find some videos on Yabla English that use the words in different contexts.

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