Homophone words in Spanish are terms that are pronounced the same as others; however, they are spelled differently and have different meanings. This linguistic phenomenon is actually a subclass of homonyms. Homonymous words are words that have different origins and meanings, but have the same pronunciation (homophones) or the same spelling (homographs). Today we are going to focus on the second type.
There is a stereotype that says that in Spanish each letter represents a single sound. Because of this, students think that Spanish spelling is one of the simplest. However, there are several exceptions that cause errors when writing in our language.
There are several pairs of spellings that share sounds: g/j, b/v, ll/y. To this we must add the phenomena of seseo and ceceo (confusion between s/c/z) in southern Spain and most of America. Finally, we must not forget the letter h, which, although it is not pronounced, can differentiate meanings.
Due to these double spellings for the same sound, confusion can occur in spoken language, since two words can coincide in their pronunciation, but with totally different meanings. Therefore, the context and the situation help us to differentiate between them. Of course, in written language there should be no problems, as long as we know the spelling well. Let’s take a look at some of the most curious homophone words in Spanish.
Homophone Words in Spanish: hay un pollo en el poyo
The sentence we offer in the title, would not be strange if we lived in a rural area. Probably, the owner of the pollo (chicken in English) would take the animal down from the poyo (stone bench) and return it to the henhouse.
But let’s imagine the following situation. We are walking at night, with limited illumination, and someone alerts us saying: “¡Cuidado con el poyo/pollo!” With no further information, we just have to pray to luck that, when we step on what we have been warned about, it doesn’t cheep. And if it doesn’t, let’s hope that the blow against our foot is not too painful.
Also, in the idiomatic expression montar un pollo (make a scene), we could well understand that someone está montando un poyo, that is, installing it, so that the elderly people of the village can sit down.
Ralla vs Raya: the Difference is Very Thin
Homophone words in Spanish rallar and rayar can also cause curious misunderstandings. Both are verbs, so the probability of confusion is greater. According to the Real Academia Española, when we rallamos (grate) something, we crumble it by rubbing it with the grater, for example, cheese for a pizza. On the other hand, if we rayamos (scribble) an object, we make lines or scratches on its surface. Exactly, that’s what some vandals do to cars parked on the street.
But how could we confuse both terms? Let’s imagine a child who has written his exercises in ugly handwriting. His teacher, angry, says to him: “That’s very bad, ¡rállalo/ráyalo! The child might hesitate between crossing out the words he had written and tearing the paper to shreds, after the hard effort it had taken him to finish his homework.
The barón is also a varón
Here we have another of the most confusing homophone words in Spanish. Both designate a man, but one of them designates a noble title (barón) and the other, his masculine nature (varón). We could say that it is necessary to be a varón in order to be a barón, but not vice versa.
Now, let’s think for a moment about a very prestigious hospital, in which the upper class of society trusts to give birth to their heirs. A new baby has come into the world and one nurse asks the other, “Is it a varón/barón?”. The answers could be several. From “No, it’s a female,” to “Who knows? Maybe it’s a count.”
As we can deduce from studying homophone words in Spanish, it is very important to learn Spanish spelling. At least, when writing, they would not cause any misunderstanding; however, in spoken language, it is complicated to avoid the confusion in some situations. If you want to learn many more, reserve a Spanish class at Spanishviaskype.com.