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Pun

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English

Puns are often used in texts for humour, but can also make you think differently about a subject if the meaning is changed in the text.

What is a pun?

A pun is a play on words or a joke using homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings) or homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings), with the pun centering on a word with more than one meaning or on two words that sound alike. Let's start to explore some quick examples of puns to get you more confident when trying to spot them.

Types of puns

We will now take a look at three different types of puns. These are:

  1. Homophonic puns
  2. Homographic puns
  3. Compound puns

Homophonic puns

Homophonic puns rely on words that sound the same (or very similar) but have different meanings and spellings (these are called homophones).

Because homophones sound the same but are spelt differently, the humour from homophonic puns is used more often in spoken texts, as the pun is more effective when it is spoken rather than when it is read.

Yesterday, I bet the butcher that she couldn't reach the meat on the top shelf. She refused to take my bet since the steaks were too high.

Homographic puns

Homographic puns (also known as heteronymic puns) use words that are spelt the same but have different meanings.

Unlike homophonic puns, homographic puns are better understood when read. Because of this, homographic puns can be found in prose writing as well as plays and humorous writing. They are also used to show the multiple meanings of something, rather than writers just using them for humour.

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

Here, the homographic pun plays on the word "flies" which is spelled the same but has multiple meanings. The first meaning is referring to flight but the second meaning is referring to a fly, which is an insect.

Compound puns

Compound puns are probably the easiest to understand - they are simply a sentence that contains more than one pun. This can be two homographic puns, two homophonic puns, or a mixture of both.

They sometimes end up having more than two meanings, as each pun has its own multiple meanings; when they are combined they have lots of meanings.

Don't scam in the jungle; cheetahs are always spotted.

Now that we've had a look at some different types of puns let's think about some common examples.

Pun examples

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List of puns

Now that you have a good understanding of what a pun is and the different types of puns, let's have a look at some examples of puns to help you get more confident identifying them in a text.

Here are some examples of homophonic puns:

No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationary.

The word 'stationary' can refer to something not moving but can also be confused with stationery, which refers to writing or office materials.

Reading while sunbathing makes you well-red.

'Well-red' could be confused with 'well read' as they sound the same. So the sentence has the double meaning of someone being able to read a lot but also becoming sunburnt.

Here are some homographic puns! Remember, homographic puns are spelled out the same but still have multiple meanings.

Always trust a glue salesman, they tend to stick to their word.

'Stick' has a double meaning. It could be talking about a glue salesman always being true to their word, or saying that they literally stick to it, as they sell glue.

The tallest building in town is the library - it has thousands of stories.

The pun in this sentence plays on the word 'stories' which can mean floors in a building or the narrative of a text.

A boiled egg every morning is hard to beat.

The word 'beat' in this sentence could mean whisking the egg, or saying that there isn't anything better than a boiled egg every morning.

Finally, take a look at this example of a compound pun:

A hundred hares have escaped, the police are combing the place.

This sentence uses a compound pun! The first word (hares) can refer to the animal or to the hair on your head. Combing (the second word) can mean searching or could be talking about using a comb. Here we have both a homophonic pun ('hare' and 'hair') as well as a homographic pun ('combing').

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Puns in literature

Now that you've had a look at some puns, let's consider why a writer might use puns and what effects they can have.

Puns are used quite often in Literature and are more common in plays than prose. We are going to look at two examples from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , as well as a pun used in Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations .

Ask for me tomorrow, you shall find me a grave man (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597)

Mercutio speaks this homographic pun before his death. The word 'grave' has multiple meanings. It could mean that Mercutio is sad / serious about the situation between Romeo and Tybalt (who are feuding), or it could be Shakespeare hinting at Mercutio's imminent death.

Being but heavy I will bear the light. Give me a torch. I don't want to dance. I feel sad, so let me be the one who carries the light (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597)

The compound pun here shows how puns can give multiple meanings to a line. Heavy could mean sadness, but also might be referring to the light itself being heavy. The light also has a double meaning. It could be talking about literal light or 'light' feelings.

This pun helps us understand Romeo's feelings in this part of the play, and is a great example of the way puns can help a writer to create double meanings rather than just using them for humor.

They failed to point the conversation to me, every now and then, and stick the point into me. (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1867)

Here is an example of a homographic pun in prose writing (rather than a play). In Dickens' novel, the point can mean two different things.

  • Pointing something out (to do with the main aspect of a conversation);
  • Be the literal definition of the point (the sharp end) of an object.

Now you have a much greater understanding of puns, their types, and their uses. You will soon have a chance to test your knowledge, so pay attention to these key takeaways ...

Pun - Key takeaways

  • Puns can be used to create humor in a text, but can also be used to give multiple meanings.
  • Puns are a type of wordplay, using words that have more than one meaning to create humor and double meaning.
  • There are three common types of a pun: homophonic pun, homographic pun, and compound pun.

  • Puns can often be found in plays - and you may find lots of them when studying Shakespeare.

  • They can also be used in other types of literature, such as prose.

Pun

A pun is a type of wordplay that uses homophones or homographs to create double meanings. They can be used to create humour or to show multiple meanings in a text.

A pun means a wordplay that uses the different possible meanings of similar-sounding words to create humour or to give multiple meanings.

Final Pun Quiz

Question

What is a pun?

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Answer

A wordplay using words with more than one meaning.

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Question

What is the effect of a pun?

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Answer

It creates humour and/or shows double meaning.

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Question

Which of the following is a type of pun?

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Answer

Homographic

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Question

Which of the following is a type of pun?

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Answer

Homophonic

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Question

What is the name for a sentence containing multiple puns?


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Answer

A compound pun.

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Which playwright uses lots of puns?

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Answer

William Shakespeare

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Question

True or false?


Puns are more common in prose than in plays.

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Answer

False

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Question

What is the meaning of a 'homophonic' pun?

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Answer

A pun that uses a word that sounds similar but has a different spelling and meaning.

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What is the meaning of a 'homographic' pun?

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Answer

A pun that uses a word that sounds similar and is spelt the same but has different meanings.

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 Which of the following is a common pun?

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Answer

The tallest building in town is the library - it has thousands of stories.

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Question

Where will you most likely find puns in everyday life?

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Answer

In jokes

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Question

What word does Dickens use as a pun in Great Expectations?


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Answer

point

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Question

Which of the following is an example of a homographic pun?

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Answer

The tallest building in town is the library - it has thousands of stories.

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Why are puns used to create humour?

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Answer

Because the double meanings can create confusion and a comedic effect.

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Question

What type of pun is better understood when read?

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Answer

Homographic pun

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Question

Words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings are called what?

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Answer

Homophones

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Homographic puns are also known as what?

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Answer

Heteronymic puns

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Question

True or false?


Puns are only used in written texts.

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Answer

False

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Question

Fill in the blank:


A pun is a ____ on words.

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Answer

play

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A compound pun contains what?

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Answer

more than one pun 

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Question

Name the type of pun that uses words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings.

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Answer

Homophonic pun

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Question

Name the type of pun that uses words 

that are spelt the same but have different meanings. 


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Answer

Homographic pun

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Question

What type of pun is more effective when spoken?

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Answer

Homophonic pun

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Question

Name the three types of pun.

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Answer

Homophonic, homographic and compound

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Question

Can compound puns consist of a mixture of homophonic and homographic puns?

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Answer

Yes

Show question

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