Are there any examples of any English words that are both synonyms and homonyms of each other?

I would guess that over time one would become considered an alternate spelling and die out, so perhaps were there ever such words?

  • 1
    Are you asking of there are such words that are not simply considered spelling variants?
    – Davo
    Jul 16, 2019 at 11:01
  • Hello, AML. I'm guessing that this has potential beyond 'trivia' appeal; it's essentially asking whether two homonymous words with overlapping meanings came into the English lexicon from different source languages (if they appeared from the same Greek say root at different times, they'd be polysemes rather than homonyms). There are many examples of hypernymy-with-polysemy ('When is a hurricane not a hurricane?' / "You can't say a fish is an animal, Tommy" / "This is a square, not a rectangle" ...). Jul 16, 2019 at 11:02
  • If two words sound the same and mean the same, they are to all intents and purposes one word. They may represent a historical merger of once-distinct words (this has happened), but synchronically they’re just one word. Jul 16, 2019 at 12:18
  • It’s really annoying me that I cannot think of any examples in English, but one well-known example is he very central Western Romance (Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, etc.) very ser ‘to be’, which represents a merger of Latin esse ‘to be’ and sedēre ‘to sit’. Now, being and sitting are of course not quite synonymous, but they aren’t that far off when you consider that ser is used for permanent, inherent qualities and contrasted with estar ‘to be’, which relates to impermanent, time-limited qualities and comes from Latin stāre ‘to stand’. I’m sure there are English examples of this. Jul 16, 2019 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


You may find this page of homonyms interesting. Some homonyms:

Air - oxygen / a lilting tune

Fair - equitable / beautiful

Ring - a band on a finger / something circular in shape

If you said, The air is fair, then it could be a weather report or a comment on a song you just heard. The word air in current parlance is the atmosphere, but in archaic language it means a song-like vocal or instrumental composition. The words air and air are homophones and homographs. While they are not exact synonyms, they do have the archaic / modern contrast that you are seeking.

Also consider the ring on your finger and a boxing ring. The former is round, by necessity, and the latter was round before it became the current square. These are homophones and perhaps close enough to be considered synonyms. And this is admittedly a stretch: Once again, the boxer took on the burden of the ring. Is he fighting again? Or getting married again?

  • 'The words air and air', for example, does not reflect dictionary rulings: these are different senses of the same word (polysemes not homonyms), grouped under the same headword and sharing a common original etymology. Contrast the three homographs/homonyms bank, labelled bank1, bank2 and bank3 (superscripted) at AHD. Each of these three lexemes also has numerous polysemes, some intercategorial. You're correct with fair1 and fair2, but have chosen two examples of ring1 (there is a second word, ring2, available: the sound / making that sound). Jul 16, 2019 at 12:53

In the ballpark: "attacks" and "a tax". I see imperfections with this, and ideological axes to grind, but it nearly fits the bill with the extra obscure effect of equating a singular (a tax) with a plural "attacks".

Who was it, Burke, who made the famous quip "To tax and to please..."?

  • Hello, Terry. 'Any two words?' Oct 5, 2021 at 14:05

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