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Homographs are words that look like each other, but have different meanings and sometimes different sounds. For example, the four letter group bore may be:

  • a verb meaning 'to be tedious' in its base form: lecturers should try not to bore students (and vice-versa);
  • a noun meaning a person or thing that has the effect of that verb - some lecturers (and some students), we fear, are bores;
  • another verb meaning 'to drill a hole in' or 'to hollow out': people bore tunnels and mines, and also delicately in jewellery and woodwork;
  • various nouns connected with that: shotguns may be defined as 'of full bore', ~ 'of maximum hollow diameter';
  • the past tense of a third verb, 'to bear': "in the past, most mothers bore their children at home", and "he bore his injury bravely";
  • and a form of wave that rushes up a river at high tide.

These homographs all sound the same: they are homonyms. Some homographs on the other hand sound different, although they remain identical to the eye. There is a metal called lead: the homographic verb 'to lead' has no connection of meaning or of history to this, and does not even sound like it. (The metal rhymes with 'red' (IPA: /ɛ/, while the verb rhymes with 'read' and 'deed' (IPA: /iː/.) In the homographic pair 'Reading' and 'reading', the first vowel sound varies. The name of the town in Berkshire is pronounced with the first syllable rhyming with 'head' and 'dead' (IPA: /ɛ/); the -ing participle of the verb, as in "I am reading", has a first syllable like 'to read' (IPA: /iː/).

Note that homographs come in groups - it is not logical to have a homograph with no companion.

You may also like to see AWE's article on homonyms.