Words identical in sound-form but different in meaning are traditionally termed homonymous.
When analyzing different cases of homonymy we find that some words are homonymous in all their forms, i.e. we observe full homonymy of the paradigms of two or more different words as, e.g., in seal (1)—'a sea animal' and seal (2)—'a design printed on paper by means of a stamp'. The paradigm "seal, seal's, seals, seals' " is identical for both of them and gives no indication of whether it is seal (1) or seal (2) that we are analysing. In other cases, e.g. seal (1)—'a sea animal' and (to) seal (3)—'to close tightly', we see that although some individual word-forms are homonymous, the whole of the paradigm is not identical. Compare, for instance, the paradigms: It is easily observed that only some of the word-forms (e.g.seal, seals, etc.) are homonymous, whereas others (e.g. sealed, sealing) are not. In such cases we cannot speak of homonymous words but only of homonymy of individual word-forms or ofpartial homonymy. This is true of a number of other cases, e.g. comparefind [faind],found [faund], found [faund] andfound [faund],founded ['faundid], founded [faundid];know [nou], knows [nouz],knew[nju:], and no [nou];nose [nouz],noses [nouziz];new [nju:] in which partial homonymy is observed.
Consequently all cases of homonymy may be classified into full and partial homonymy—i.e. homonymy of words and homonymy of individual word-forms. From the examples of homonymy discussed above it follows that the bulk of full homonyms are to be found within the same parts of speech and partial homonymy as a rule is observed in word-forms belonging to different parts of speech. This is not to say that partial homonymy is impossible within one part of speech. Cases of full homonymy may be found in different parts of speech as, e.g., for—preposition, for—conjunction and four —numeral, as these parts of speech have no other word-forms.
Homonyms may be also classified by the type of meaning into lexical, lexico-grammatical and grammatical homonyms. In seal (1) n and seal (2) n, e.g., the part-of-speech meaning of the word and the grammatical meanings of all its forms are identical The difference is confined to lexical meaning only or, to be more exact, to the denotational component: seal (1) denotes 'a sea animal', 'the fur of this animal', etc., seal (2)—'a design printed on paper, the stamp by which the design is made', etc. So we can say that seal (1) and seal (2) are lexical homonyms as they differ in lexical meaning.
If we compare seal (1)—'a sea animal' and (to) seal (3)—'to close tightly', we shall observe not only a difference in the lexical meaning of their homonymous word-forms, but a difference in their grammatical meanings as well. Identical sound-forms, i.e.seals [si:lz] (Common Case Plural of the noun) and (he)seals [si:lz] (third person Singular of the verb) possess each of them different grammatical meanings. As both grammatical and lexical meanings differ we describe these homonymous word-forms aslexico-grammatical.
Lexico-grammatical homonymy generally implies that the homonyms in question belong to different parts of speech. But there may be cases however when lexico-grammatical homonymy is observed within the same part of speech as, e.g., in the verbs (to)find [faind] and (to)found [faund], where homonymic word-forms:found[faund]—Past Tense of (to)find andfound [faund]—Present Tense of (to)found differ both grammatically and lexically.
Modern English abounds in homonymic word-forms differing in grammatical meaning only. In the paradigms of the majority of verbs the form of the Past Tense is homonymous with the form of Participle II, e.g.asked—asked; in the paradigm of nouns we usually find homonymous forms of the Possessive Case Singular and the Common Case Plural, e.g.brother's—brothers. It may be easily observed thatgrammatical homonymy is the homonymy of different word-forms of one and the same word.
The two classifications:full andpartial homonymy and lexical, lexico-grammatical and grammatical homonymy are not mutually exclusive. All homonyms may be described on the basis of the two criteria—homonymy of all forms of the word or only some of the word-forms and the type of meaning in which homonymous words or word-forms differ. So we speak of full lexical homonymy ofseal(1) n and seal (2) n, of partial lexical homonymy oflie(1) v andlie(2) v, and of partial lexico-grammatical homonymy of seal (1) n and seal (3) v.
In the discussion of the problem of homonymy we proceeded from the as sumption that words are two-facet units possessing both sound-form and meaning, and we deliberately disregarded their graphic form. Some linguists, however, argue that the graphic form of words in Modern English is just as important as their sound-form and' should be taken into consideration in the analysis and classification of homonyms. Consequently they proceed from the definition of homonyms as words identical in sound-form or spelling but different in meaning. It follows that in their classification of homonyms all the three aspects: sound-form, graphic-form and meaning are taken into account. Accordingly they classify homonyms intohomographs, homophones andperfect homonyms.
Homographs are words identical in spelling, but different both in their sound-form and meaning, e.g.bown [bou]— 'a piece of wood curved by a string and used for shooting arrows' andbown [bau]—'the bending of the head or body'; tearn [tia]—'a drop of water that comes from the eye' and tearv [tea]—'to pull apart by force'. Homophones are words identical in sound-form but different both in spelling and in meaning, e.g.sean andsee v; sonn andsun n.
Perfect homonyms are words identical both in spelling and in sound-form but different in meaning, e.g. case (1) n— 'something that has happened' and case (2) n—'a box, a container'. It may be readily observed that in this approach no distinction is made between homonymous words and homonymous word-forms or between full and partial homonymy.