How to Use Homonyms in a Poem

Written by rachel greenleaf
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How to Use Homonyms in a Poem
Scales with scales. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

You like to write, right? Homonyms are words that sound or are spelt the same way but have different meanings. To be more precise, homonyms are really three closely-related kinds of words: homonyms, homophones, and homographs. "Homonym" means "same name" and are words that both sound and look exactly alike, such as "lie" (recline) and "lie" (the opposite of truth). "Homophone" means "same sound." Homophones have different spellings but are pronounced the same way, as in "blue" and "blue." "Homograph" means "same writing" and refers to words that are only spelt the same way, such as "wind" (weather) and "wind" (twist). Poems with all three kinds of homonyms are a fun way to challenge yourself and your reader.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Pen or Pencil
  • Paper
  • Dictionary
  • Internet

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    How to Find Homonyms

  1. 1

    Look up the word you want to use in the dictionary. See if it has a second entry with a completely different meaning. For example, a ring is a piece of jewellery but also the sound that could come from a phone. Do not use words that are variations on the same meaning, like "sweet" (a dessert) and "sweet" (a taste). These are really the same idea. Look for words with completely different ideas.

    How to Use Homonyms in a Poem
    Down falling down, a homonym in action. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Look on the Internet. There are many resources that can assist you in finding homonyms.

  3. 3

    Write down the homonyms you think you might want to use. Make a long list before you start writing your poem. This will give you more choices to work with. You do not have to use all the words.

    How to Surprise Your Reader

  1. 1

    Choose words that can be more than one part of speech. For example, a shoot (noun) is a small plant but shoot (verb) means to fire a gun. Blue is a noun (the colour) but also an adjective (sad). The dictionary can help you most in finding this kind of homonym.

    How to Use Homonyms in a Poem
    This woman is blue and so is her hair. (Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)
  2. 2

    Use words that sound the same but are spelt differently. For example, "carrot" is a vegetable but "caret" refers to the weight of a diamond, and "carat" and "karat" refer to the measure of gold. The Internet can help you most in finding this kind of homonym.

    How to Use Homonyms in a Poem
    This driver was sighted, then cited. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Look for words that contain other words. For example, the word "praise" is contained in "appraise." This kind of homonym will work best if the words have two completely different meanings. The best way to find this kind of homonym is to be on the lookout and write down good examples you see.

    How to Use Homonyms in a Poem
    Snow, now. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

    How to Use Homonyms in Poems

  1. 1

    Use homonyms in place of end rhyme. This poetic device is called "identical rhyme." It is also sometimes called "rhyme riche" or "rich rhyme." One clever example is in this stanza from the poem "Distressful Homonyms" by Vikram Seth:

    Since for me now you have no warmth to spare

    I sense I must adopt a sane and spare

    Philosophy to ease a restless state...

    Here, "spare" almost opposite meanings. In line 1, it is a verb meaning "to give because there is extra." In line 2, it means "bare bones" or "not having any extra." This is a great example of rhyme riche.

  2. 2

    Write a ghazal. This is an ancient Persian verse form written in couplets. It that requires the same word or phrase to be used at the end of the last line in each stanza. Ghazals are fun and are a perfect opportunity for the use of homonyms. There are many sites on the Internet that can help you learn more about how to write them.

  3. 3

    Write a sestina. This form requires you to choose 6 words that are repeated throughout the poem in particular places. One famous example is Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "Sestina." Write this kind of poem if you are up for a challenge! There are many examples of sestinas and how to write them on the Internet.

  4. 4

    Make up your own form that requires the use of homonyms in a particular place in the poem.

Tips and warnings

  • When using homonyms, try to avoid words whose sound is close but not exactly the same, such as "place" and "plays." You will impress your reader more if you stick to words with the exact same sound or spelling.

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