If words sound the same or mean the same, then what?

January 05, 2007|by LISA PREJEAN

I was calling out spelling words to my son when we came across the word "eponym." I wasn't sure if he would spell it correctly. After all, it's not often used in playground conversations.

"I know that word, Mommy. There's a section in the spelling book on them."

He turned to the page featuring words that are based on a person's or character's name. For example, some plant names that end in -ia are eponyms that contain the names of botanists.

Words that fall in this category include gardenia (named after botanist Alexander Garden) and macadamia (named after chemist John Macadam).

Why is it important for children to learn about the origin of words? It not only helps them to become better spellers. It also aids their reading comprehension skills.

This month my third-graders will be working with synonyms, antonyms and homonyms. We'll probably also talk about homographs.

Here's an easy way to remember what each of these mean:


· Synonym = same

· Antonym = against

· Homonyms = same sound, different spellings/meanings

· Homographs = same spelling, different meanings/sometimes different pronunciations

Let me explain.

We'll start with synonyms - words that mean the same thing. If you say, "Synonym equals same," that might help your child remember the definition more easily.

Synonyms for happy include glad and joyful. By brainstorming lists of synonyms, children can add variety to their sentences. As a result, their writing becomes more varied and interesting.

To help your child, try this exercise: Give him a word and a time limit and ask him to list as many words that he can think of with like meanings. Then look up the word together in a thesaurus to see which words you overlooked. If you don't have a thesaurus at home, it is a worthwhile purchase.

Our next section to cover in class will be on antonyms. These are words with opposite meanings.

An antonym of happy is sad. Other examples include smooth/rough, strong/weak or clumsy/graceful. To help your child understand this concept, write a list of words and ask her to match them with words of opposite meanings. If you say, "Antonym means against," that might help your child remember what this word means.

Homonyms are another type of word that we'll be talking about this month. These words sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

Examples of homonyms include ate/eight, know/no, hear/here and tale/tail.

You can't tell which spelling is called for unless you hear it used in a sentence. Children often get these confused as they are learning how to spell because they concentrate on the spelling but not on the context of the sentence.

Ask your child to write sentences such as, "Can you write the right answer?" to see if he can tell the difference between the two words that sound the same but have different meanings.

Homographs are one more type of word that children need to understand. A homograph is a word with the same spelling as another word but with a different meaning and origin. Sometimes the pronunciation is different as well.

Take for instance the word "bow." If you use it in this sentence, "There was a bow on the present," it is pronounced one way. If you use it in this sentence, "The actor took a bow," it is pronounced another way. The spelling is the same, however.

Try to keep a running list of homographs that you encounter. Post the list on the refrigerator so you can keep adding to it. Challenge your children to see if they can think of more than Mom and Dad can.

That might just be the incentive they need to crack the books again after Christmas break.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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