Synonyms1, 2, 3.
Three similar terms— homophone, homograph
—designate words that are identical in pronunciation, spelling, or both, while differing in meaning and usually in origin. Homophones
(“same” + “sound”) are different words that sound alike, whether or not they are spelled alike. Thus pair
“two of a kind,” pare
“cut off,” and pear,
the fruit, are homophones
because they sound exactly the same, even though each is spelled differently. But bear
“carry or support” and bear,
the animal, are homophones
that not only sound alike but are also spelled alike. Homographs
(“same” + “writing”) are different words that are spelled the same but may or may not have the same pronunciation. The homographs sound
“healthy,” and sound,
“a body of water,” for example, are spelled and pronounced the same way. However, words with the same spelling but different pronunciations are also homographs.
Familiar examples are the pairs row
rōroʊroh “line” and row
rouraʊrou “fight” as well as sewer
ərsoo-er “conduit for waste” and sewer
ərsoh-er “person who sews.” Their identical spellings define them as homographs
no matter how they are said.
The word homonyms
(“same” + “names”) is, strictly speaking, either a synonym for homophones
or a name for words that are at once homophones
—alike in both spelling and
pronunciation—such as the two words spelled b-e-a-r
and the three spelled s-o-u-n-d.
As a practical matter, however, the terms homophone, homograph
are often distinguished from one another by the contexts in which they are found. Homophone
—the first focused on sound and the second on spelling—appear primarily in technical or academic writing, where fine distinctions are important. The more familiar word homonym
heard in classrooms from early grades on, has become an all-inclusive term that describes not only words that are both homophonic and homographic, but words that are either one or the other. In common parlance, then, words that sound alike, look alike, or both, can be called homonyms.