Quick English: Homographs

The English language is known for having words with multiple meanings. These words are called homographs and often create confusion if they are not used in the right context.

Some multiple meanings words are:


Meaning 1: A game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge.

Meaning 2: To cause (someone) to feel confused because they cannot understand or make sense of something: "What he said puzzled me".


Meaning 1: An implement with a handle and a solid surface, usually of wood, used for hitting the ball in games such as baseball or cricket

Meaning 2: A nocturnal flying mammal

The English word with the most meanings is ‘SET’. ‘Set’ has 464 meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary!

Don’t worry! No one knows all the meanings, apart from, maybe, The Oxford Dictionary lexicographer (the person who put the dictionary together).

Here are a few meanings:

1) fixed in a position; immovable; rigid

2) the descent of a heavenly body below the horizon: before the set of the sun

3) a group of things of the same kind that belong together and are so used: a set of books, a set of teeth

4) to place plants or shoots in the ground; to plant

How many meanings of the word ‘set’ do you know?

Other well-known homographs are:

CUT - stop filming or recording; make an opening or incision; divide a pack of playing cards

RUN - to go quickly by moving the legs rapidly: to run down the hill; melted or liquefied: runny butter; to perform or carry out: to run tests

STAND - to be in an upright position on the feet: I'll stand in line for you; to tolerate or bear: I can’t stand spiders; an exhibition area: We sold lots of lemonade at our stand.

GO - to leave a place/depart: Let's go!; an attempt or try: He had a go at the stamp business; to continue: Go on with what you were saying.

TAKE - to gain possession of (something) by force or effort: He wants to take her chocolate; to eat, drink, etc, esp habitually: to take sugar in one's tea; to proceed to occupy: to take a seat

BEAR - to hold up; support: to bear the weight of the roof; to produce by natural growth: a tree that bears fruit; mammal of the family Ursidae: The bear in the zoo was sleeping.

Learning multiple meanings can be difficult sometimes, but you can help yourself learn faster with practical games.

You can do this with index cards for example. Here’s how it works:

  1. Find as many multiple meaning words as you can. (You can find these online if you don’t have a book).
  2. Write each word on a different card and their meaning on the other side.
  3. Turn the cards with the ‘meaning’ side up and try to guess the word. You can play this on your own or with a friend.

If this game is too old school for you, there are a lot of online games and apps that can help you improve your English vocabulary!

What kinds of tips and tricks do you use to memorize words with different meanings?

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