Pun | Paronomasia | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Pun | Paronomasia | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature


Pun Definition

Pun or Paronomasia is a figure which rests on a duplicity of sense under unity of sound.

Puns are very often intended humorously but not always.

What is Pun?

This figure consists in the use of the same sound to convey different meanings. It rests on a play on words that are alike in sound but different in meaning. The pun is based upon the foundation of verbal ambiguity. The same sound here gives rise to different meanings.

Thus, in answer to the question, “Is life worth living?”, a man may say, “That depends on the liver.” Now the term ‘liver’ has two meanings, completely different. In the first place, it means the person, who lives. The other meaning is liver, an organ of the human body. The same sound liver then, suggests two meanings, completely different, and it is for the hearer to determine which meaning he is to take. This sort of play on sound is called the pun or pronomasia (from Gk, ‘para’ ‘near’ and ‘onama’ a name’)

In the sentence ‘the first son is the sun of the family, there is a pun on ‘son’ and sun.’ The same sound is repeated here, but these are two different words, with two different meanings.

Similarly, in the sentence. ‘Some people are more attentive to their pages’ (boy servants) than to the pages (leaves) of a book , there is a pun on ‘pages’, repeated in two different senses.

Functions of Pun

Of course, the effect is comical, and the figure is generally used for jest. The Pun is a common feature in comic writing, as it is fundamentally associated with wit. It has no serious purpose, but is found occasionally used for the purpose of banter. However, it graces one’s composition very often by enlivening it with the flashes of wit.

Three Types of Pun in Terms of Usage

There are different ways in which this figure is used.

First, sometimes a word or expression is used in a sentence to suggest two entirely different meanings. The following is an example of this variety:

“When a woman loses her husband, she pines for a second.”

There is a pun upon the two wholly unconnected meanings of the word ‘second’. The first meaning is ‘a short time’, while the other ‘a second husband’.

Second, the same word or expression is used more than once in a sentence in different senses:

“The will of a living daughter is curbed by the will of a dead father.”


Here the same word ‘will is repeated with two different meanings. The first ‘will’ means ‘testament’, and the second, ‘desire’.

Third, the words of the same sound are used in a sentence, but these are actually different words, with different meanings. An example of this variety is given below:

“Not on thy sole, but on thy soul.” (Shakespeare)

Here two words, ‘sole’ and ‘soul’ are used. They are different words with different meanings, though they have the same sound. The word ‘sole’ means ‘the bottom of a shoe’, while ‘soul indicates the indwelling spirit of man.’ (‘Sole’ also means ‘only’)

Pun Examples

In the example ‘An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country’, we observe that the word ‘lies’ has two meanings :

(a) resides and (b) tells a lie. In this variety of pun (also known as Equivoque) a single word is used in two senses.

Again, in the extract ‘Not on thy sole but on thy soul we notice another variety of pun where two words (i.e., sole and soul) having the same sound but different spellings are used in two different senses: (a) under surface of a foot and (b) spirit.

Finally, in the example “So is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father.” We notice a variation of the preceding variety; here two words having the same sound and spelling are used in two different senses : (a) desire and (b) the legal document.

Characteristics of Pun

The chief characteristics of pun are given below:

(i) One word or sound is used in two different senses.

(ii) Two words having the same sound but identical or dissimilar spellings are used in two different senses.

(iii) The figure is used generally to excite laughter.


(a) When the piece of meat fell in the river, the dog looked at it fondly.

This is a pun.

In this figure duplicity of sense is expressed through unity of sound.

Here a single word ‘fondly’ is used in two senses : (a) affectionately and (b) foolishly.

(b) For a foolish sportsman it is easier to follow a hound than to follow an argument.

This is a pun.

This figure consists in a play upon words that are alike in sound but different in meaning,

Here two words (i.e. follow and follow) having identical sound and spelling are used to convey two different meanings:

(a) to chase and (b) to understand.

(c) The parson told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell.

This is a pun

In a pun, there is a duplicity of sense under the unity of sound to produce the comical effect or invoke the play of wit.

In the present case, ‘old’ and ‘tolled’ are the two words of the same sound, but they are really different words, with different meanings- ‘said’ and ‘rang’ respectively. A duplicity of sense is conveyed through this unity of sound. The effect is comical, no doubt.

(d) I am too light to bear this light. (Shakespeare)

This is a pun.

In a pun, there is a duplicity of sense under the unity of sound. The purpose is comical.

Here ‘light’ is repeated twice in the sentence to convey two different meanings. In the first place, it means ‘frivolity’, and in the second case, it means ‘illumination’. The effect is comical.

Also Read:

Examples of Pun in Literature

  1. Is life worth living ? –It depends on the liver. [6) human organ, (ii) living person]
  2. They went and told (i.e., reported) the sexton, and

The sexton toll’d (i.e. sounded) the bell. (Hood)

  1. Old Gaunt (i.e., a name) indeed, and gaunt (i.e., lean) in being old.
  2. Would that its tone could reach (i.e., arrive at) the Rich (i.e., the wealthy). (Hood)
  3. But a cannon ball took off his legs

So he laid down his arms! (i) limbs, (ii) weapons] (Hood)

  1. Though he is a scientist his knowledge on sound (i.e., branch of study) is not sound (i.e., deep).
  2. He whipped his son to make him smart. (i) active, (ii) to suffer from pain.
  3. In a game of cards a good deal (i.e., much) depends on good playing, and good playing depends on a good deal (i.e., distribution of cards).
  4. What he hit is history (i.e.., his story) and what he missed is mystery (i.e., my story). (Hood)
  5. Myself my sepulcher, a moving (i) wandering, (ii) exciting pity) grave. (Milton)
  6. Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out (i.e.. angry) with me: yet if you be out (i.e.. worn-heeled), sir. I can mend you. (Shakespeare)
  7. If he do bleed, I’ll gild (i.e., cover with a thin layer) the faces of the grooms withal; for it must seem their guilt (i.e., crime). (Shakespeare)
  8. I’ve met with many a breeze before, But never such a blow (i) stroke, i) blowing of wind. (Hood)
  9. It is no mean (i.e., small) happiness to follow the golden mean (i.e., the middle path).
  10. Marriage is just like a call. You go to adore (i) love intensely. (ii) a door, you ring (i) sound, (ii) fix a ring the bell (i) bell, (ii) fair lady, and you give your name the maid (i) introduce yourself to the female attendant, (ii) let the bride take your surname.
  11. For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,

I’ll pay it with all my heart (i) suffer in the heart, (ii) seek revengefully).


  1. It is easy to follow a dictator than to follow the abstract principle of democracy. (The first ‘follow’ means ‘obey’ and the second, ‘understand’.)
  2. Truly, sir, all that I live by is with awl. Shakespeare [There is a pun on ‘awl’ (an instrument of the cobbler) and all
  3. You cannot change the spot on your character by changing your spot.

(The first ‘spot’ means ‘stain’ or ‘mark’, while the second signifies ‘place’.)

  1. It is no mean (small) happiness to be seated in the mean (middle). -Shakespeare

12 Most Funny Pun Jokes

  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  • To the guy who invented zero, thanks for nothing.
  • Geology rocks but Geography is where it’s at!
  • Smaller babies may be delivered by stork but the heavier ones need a crane.
  • So what if I don’t know what apocalypse means? It’s not the end of the world!
  • Long fairy tales have a tendency to dragon.
  • The Middle Ages were called the Dark Ages because there were too many knights.
  • A cross-eyed teacher couldn’t control his pupils.
  • She had a photographic memory, but never developed it.
  • I wasn’t originally going to get a brain transplant, but then I changed my mind.
  • What do you get when you mix alcohol and literature? Tequila mockingbird.
  • I bought a boat because it was for sail.

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