From time to time I will have a post on some point of English semantics…those peculiarities that are almost impossible to explain to our learners, but are so important to extracting meaning from what we read. I found the list of sentences below that were given as examples of one of the oddities of our language, homographs— words that share the same spelling, but have different meanings. In the case of these sentences, the homographs are all pronounced differently depending on their use in the sentence.
1. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
2. The bandage was wound around the wound.
3. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
4. They were too close to the door to close it.
5. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
6. To help with the planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
7. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
8. We must polish the Polish furniture
9. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
10. The farm was used to produce produce.
11. The dump was so full that it had to refuse any more refuse.
12. The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
13. This was a good time to present the present.
14. A bass was painted on the body of the bass guitar.
15. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
16. I did not object to the object being placed on the counter.
17. His mistake was putting his left foot forward while putting.
18. We would probably read more Shakespeare if we understood what we read.
19. There was a bow tied in the lines on the bow of the boat.
20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21. How can I intimate this is my most intimate friend?
22. She could not live with a live mouse in the house.
23. It was just a minute prick, over in a minute.
As proficient readers, we easily read and interpret homographs. But it is easy to see how they can be a challenge for a new reader or English learner. I wish I could say I found out why this semantic phenomenon occurs, but I can’t find a single simple explanation. As with most of the idiosyncrasies of English, we can only point to history and the influence of so many other languages on ours to begin to understand it. Now, what about words that are spelled and pronounced the same!? Another linguistic joy…homonyms! Hmm…another day perhaps…I will take that as a sign to sign off for now.