Homonyms are words that either sound the same or are spelled the same, but mean different things. Homonyms can be confusing to children who are just learning to read, so teachers tend to stress them in early reading classes so that children can understand them. Because French has far fewer words in it than English, it has more homonyms.
Homophones are the first kind of homonyms. One kind of homophones sound the same but are spelled differently. Some examples of this type of homophone are "write/right," "wait/weight" and "time/thyme." Some homophones are triples rather than pairs, such as "whether/wether/weather" and "vein/vain/vane."
Homographs are the second kind of homonyms. Homographs are words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently and have different meanings. An example is "sewer," pronounced soo-wer, the place that takes away your waste, and "sewer," pronounced so-wer, the person who replaces your lost button. Another example is "console," with the accent on the first syllable, a noun meaning an electronic control device, and "console," with the accent on the second syllable, a verb meaning to comfort someone in need.
Some homonyms are both homophones and homographs. They sound the same and are spelled the same but mean different things. For example, "bear" and "bear" are completely different words: "The bear was hibernating" and "She couldn't bear the tension." The three tiny words "set," "put" and "run" each have literally hundreds of meanings, according to lexicographer Simon Winchester.
Homophones in French
The French language contains the words "verre," "ver," "vers" and "vert," meaning, respectively, "glass," "worm," "towards" and "green." All four words are pronounced "vare," indicating that homonyms are not a phenomenon that is limited to English. Homographs are less common in French because of the use of accents to distinguish different words when they are written.
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