Words with Multiple Meanings: How to Understand and Use Them

Elly Kimreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process7 min
Created: Mar 29, 2023Last updated: Feb 1, 2024
Multiple Meanings

English is a notoriously tricky language due to various nuances, spellings, and pronunciation issues. Many commonly used words have several definitions – an all-too-familiar obstacle constantly appearing in language learning! But never fear; working on words with multiple meanings can become incredibly rewarding in expanding your lexicon.

Here's an insightful guide to some commonly used English words with several meanings. We will discuss different types of such expressions and provide examples so that you can better understand the fascinating complexity behind them.

What is a Word That Has Multiple Meanings

A word with various meanings is simply one with more than its initial definitions. Depending on the context they are used in, such expressions can possess an extensively diverse set of interpretations and have various uses.

It's common to come across one word with two meanings, and knowing this nuance is part of developing an enriching vocabulary. Some tend to be basic and easy to understand, whereas others can present quite a challenge, even for the most experienced English speakers!

Types of Words with Multiple Meanings

As you work to understand the definition of such expressions, remember that they can fall into a few distinct categories. It's essential to be aware of these, as each type has nuances you should pay attention to. Below, we discuss the three kinds of words in English with multiple meanings.


This category is an umbrella term for words with any combination of the same spelling or sound but different meanings. Whether the words are homophones or homographs, they will always be classified as homonyms.


Within the homonyms group, there are homophones – specifically words with multiple definitions and spellings but the same pronunciation. An example would be 'right' and 'write' (/raɪt/). While they are pronounced the same, their meanings differ drastically.


In contrast, homographs have different meanings and the same spelling but different pronunciations. We see an excellent example in the word 'bass.' If this expression is pronounced with one syllable (/bæs/), it refers to a type of fish. And if uttered with two syllables (/beɪs/), it means a lower-range musical note or instrument.


Examples of Words with Multiple Meaning

Now, it's time to look at the words with multiple meanings examples. We will discuss each expression in context and delve deeper into the different definitions they could carry.

  • Strike
  1. An act of hitting or pushing something forcefully (noun).

He put his full strength into the strike, pushing away the box with great vigor.

  1. An organized collective action carried out to protest or accomplish something (noun).

The workers are planning to go on strike as a sign of protest for their reduced wages.

  • Type
  1. A grouping or class of instances that have similar features (noun).

The teacher asked us to describe five types of animals living on our continent.

  1. The different sizes and styles of letters in a typeface (noun).

The latest type used in most marketing materials is more modern and eye-catching.

  1. An action of pressing a key on a typewriter or keyboard (verb).

The writer typed on her laptop, with the sound of clicking keys echoing throughout the room.

  • Minutes
  1. The notes taken down during a meeting, outlining decisions made and action steps (noun).

The CEO asked the manager to send out an email containing yesterday's meeting minutes.

  1. A unit of time equivalent to sixty seconds (noun).

The waiter asked us to wait for five more minutes before he could bring our order.

  • Fair
  1. A public event featuring amusement park rides, food stands, and other activities (noun).

Cathy and her friends watched the Ferris wheel twirl around during their visit to the fair.

  1. Treating someone or something without bias (adjective).

The competition's regulations are apparent – every contestant will be judged according to fair criteria.

  • Lead
  1. A heavy metal primarily used in batteries and other electrical items (noun).

The manufacturer found a large quantity of lead while excavating the site.

  1. To take charge or guide someone else to do something effectively (verb).

The teacher led the students through their exercises, giving instructions one at a time.

  • Row
  1. One of several lines or sequences that make up a set (noun).

We took the data from last month's report and organized it into 20 rows on the spreadsheet. 

  1. To propel a boat using oars (verb).

The kayakers rowed along the river as they felt its gentle current. 

  • Right
  1. That which is proper and should be done (adjective).

It was the right thing to do; I'm glad he helped his neighbor with the repairs.

  1. The opposite of the left (adjective).

The shop was on the right side of the street.

  1. An entitlement or privilege that has been granted (noun). 

The company gave their employees certain rights when they started working there.

  • Tie
  1. Something that joins, links, or connects two people; a relationship (noun).

The family members have kept the ties between them strong for many generations.

  1. A piece of clothing worn around the neck and knotted under the chin (noun). 

The student wore a plain tie with his formal outfit to the presentation.

  1. To fasten or secure an object in place (verb). 

The thief was trying to tie up a bag full of money when he got caught by the cops. 

  • Watch
  1. An action of monitoring someone or something with focus and attention (verb). 

Everyone was watching the news on television yesterday, shocked at hearing the breaking story.

  1. A small time-telling device, typically worn on the wrist (noun).

She looked at her watch and saw she was late for the meeting.

  • Rose
  1. A flower (noun).

He presented her with a beautiful rose as a symbol of his admiration. 

  1. To increase or develop in intensity (verb).

The level of debate between the two politicians rapidly rose, with each one making piercing points. 

  • Left
  1. The direction toward the west (noun).

She ended up taking a wrong turn and suddenly found herself heading left.

  1. Past or gone (verb).

He left the party without even saying goodbye.

  • Novel
  1. An original, untold story that transcends its categories (noun).

Her latest novel was praised for its remarkable plot twists.

  1. Something highly unusual or extraordinary (adjective).

The novel solution he offered solved the issue quickly with minimum effort.

  • Nail
  1. A short, thin piece of metal with a point at one end and a head on the other (noun).

I realized I had left out some nails while constructing my shelf, so I quickly grabbed some more.

  1. Doing something remarkably well or achieving excellent results (verb).

He nailed his recent presentation by thoroughly covering all topics without missing any details. 

  • Saw
  1. A tool with a serrated blade used for cutting wood (noun). 

He took extra precautions when using the saw – its sharp edges could always pose potential risks. 

  1. To observe or have previously seen something (verb). 

I saw a nice rainbow yesterday when I was walking home from school.

  • Bow
  1. A type of weapon used for aiming and shooting arrows (noun).

She constantly practiced with her bows to compete in the tournament. 

  1. Bending slightly to greet somebody, usually as an act of respect (verb).

He bowed in front of the monarch to show his respect and admiration.

These examples demonstrate some of the most common words with multiple meanings in English. Pay close attenton to the context they are used in and their definition each time you come across them to better understand the language.

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Thanks to our guide, now you know the answer to the question, what is a word that has multiple meanings. Understanding the nuances and types of such expressions can help you avoid confusion and become more confident in your written and spoken communication. Keep practicing, and you'll be able to master such multi-functional words.


Why do words have multiple meanings?

The reason behind this phenomenon may have historical, cultural, or linguistic roots. For example, it could be that a word with double meaning originates from two languages and describes different concepts. Another possible explanation is that the usage of words can transform over time due to cultural changes and adaptations.

How many meanings can a word have?

Some words can have as few as two meanings, while others may possess up to dozens! Nothing is definite here; this amount varies greatly depending on the specific expression. Generally-used ones tend to accumulate additional connotations over time due to transformations in language use.

Why is understanding these words important?

Recognizing multiple meaning phrases provides an essential framework for writing and speaking fluidly with precision, accuracy, and clarity. Sometimes, the wrong usage can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence and misinterpret the speaker's intentions.

How can I work on multiple-meaning words?

It's all about practicing regularly and familiarizing yourself with different contexts! Learn from examples, allow yourself to make mistakes, and don't be afraid to check the definition in dictionaries like Cambridge or Merriam-Webster. These references will undoubtedly give you a better understanding of such expressions.