Here’s What Happens When Words Have Too Many Meanings


If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: There’s more to translation than taking a word in one language, finding the meaning of that word in another language, and plugging it into a sentence. We recently looked at a list of words called homonyms, which are spelled the same and are pronounced the same, but have a totally different meanings. When taken out of context, they can produce quite the translation dilemma. But these are not the only words that can cause commotion when it comes to proper translation. 

The Hassle of Homophones

There are many words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings, called homophones. Some examples include:

•  Eight – a number
•  Ate – the past tense of eat

•  Blue – a colour
•  Blew – the past tense of blow

•   Genes – a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA that is located usually on a chromosome (Merriam-Webster)
•  Jeans – denim pants

Then there’s the really confusing words with three meanings:

•  Meddle – to interfere in someone else’s private affairs

Metal – a substance that conducts electricity or heat

Medal – a small metal object issued to commemorate a person or event or awarded for excellence or achievement (Merriam-Webster).

•  Their – relating to them 

They’re – they are 

There – in or at that place

•  Bye – a sentiment of farewell when leaving 

Buy – to make a purchase with money  

By – in proximity to; near


The Horror of Homographs

Words that are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently and have different meanings, are called homographs. These are easier to decipher in speech, but can be a nightmare for written translations. This is where the translator must rely on context as their guide.

•  Bat:

A winged, nocturnal animal

A piece of sports equipment



Not dark

A local celebration

Not good or bad; acceptable 

•  Minute:

Very small

A measure of time (60 seconds)

•  Bass:

A low tone voice

A stringed instrument with the lowest range

A freshwater fish

•  Lie:

A false statement

The act of telling something untruthful

To be in a horizontal position

•  Wind:

A movement of air

To repeatedly twirl or coil an object


Let Our Translators Take the Guesswork Out of the Equation 

Aren’t you glad that you don’t need to be the one who must translate these thoughts, words, and ideas? At ITC Translations, we take all of the guesswork out of the equation to provide you with accuracy and understanding. Our professional linguists know the culture, the context, and the right words to provide your business with the best translation every time. Having a professional translation company ensure that your message gets across the right way is essential to your customers and your reputation. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do to help your industry thrive in any language.





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