35+ Cantonese Homonyms: Fascinating World Of Double Meanings

A girl thinking about Cantonese homonyms.

Cantonese homonyms can make the language fascinating and challenging, especially when you’re into wordplay and puns. 

But how do these homonyms even work? Well, buckle up because you’re about to learn Cantonese homonyms, exploring their types, examples, and usage in everyday life.

We’ll also give specific examples and tips, and even share some Cantonese words and phrases along the way. Sounds good? Let’s get started!

What Are Cantonese Homonyms?

So, what exactly are Cantonese homonyms? In a nutshell, homonyms are words that share the same pronunciation or spelling but have different meanings. 

It’s like a linguistic magic trick, where one sound leads to various meanings! 

In Cantonese, a tonal language, homonyms are incredibly common. They can be divided into three main types: homophones, homographs, and heteronyms. 

Each has its quirks and peculiarities, making the Cantonese language vibrant and full of surprises. For instance, “si1” can mean “to try” (試) or “time” (時). Pretty cool, right?

Importance Of Understanding Homonyms In Cantonese

Why is it essential to understand Cantonese homonyms, you ask? 

It’s simple – homonyms play a crucial role in the overall structure and depth of the language. 

They can bring life to everyday conversations, wordplay, puns, and even poetry. 

Without a solid grasp of homonyms, you might find yourself scratching your head when chatting with native speakers or reading Cantonese texts.

For example, imagine not knowing that “gung1 hei2 faat3 choi4” (恭喜發財) means “wishing you prosperity” and not “wishing you a growth in wealth” (恭喜發菜). Quite a difference, huh?

Understanding homonyms not only helps you avoid misunderstandings but also allows you to appreciate the nuances and richness of the Cantonese language. 

Not only that, but mastering homonyms can make you sound more like a native speaker, which is a bonus for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Cantonese culture fully. 

After all, who wouldn’t want to sound like a local when conversing with friends or navigating the bustling streets of Hong Kong?

A girl language tutor teaching Chinese and the types of homonyms in Cantonese in front of a laptop.

Types Of Cantonese Homonyms

Let’s tackle the different types of Cantonese homonyms, shall we? 

These linguistic gems can be categorized into three main groups: homophones, homographs, and heteronyms.

By understanding each type, you’ll have a solid foundation to recognize and use them effectively in your Cantonese journey.


Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings and possibly different Chinese characters. 

They’re pretty common in Cantonese, thanks to the language’s tonal nature.

Here are five examples of Cantonese homophones, along with their meanings:

  • 話 (waa6) – “speech” and 花 (faa1) – “flower”: Even though they share the same sound, these words have entirely different meanings!
  • 魚 (jyu4) – “fish” and 雨 (jyu5) – “rain”: Notice how the tone changes, but the pronunciation stays the same?
  • 買 (maai5) – “to buy” and 賣 (maai6) – “to sell”: It’s fascinating how a simple tone change can create an entirely different meaning, right?
  • 茶 (caa4) – “tea” and 叉 (caa1) – “fork”: One’s for drinking, and the other’s for eating – but they sound so similar!
  • 唐 (tong4) – “Tang dynasty” and 糖 (tong4) – “sugar”: Same pronunciation, different Chinese characters, and entirely different meanings!


Homographs are words that share the same written form (Chinese characters) but have different meanings and possibly different pronunciations. 

They add another layer of complexity to the Cantonese language.

Let’s look at some examples::

  • 行 (hang4) – “to walk” and 行 (hong4) – “a line of business”: Different pronunciations, but the same written form – interesting, huh?
  • 和 (wo4) – “peace” and 和 (wo6) – “and”: Same character, yet different meanings and pronunciations.
  • 長 (zoeng2) – “long” and 長 (zoeng6) – “to grow”: Despite sharing the same Chinese character, these words have entirely different meanings!
  • 樂 (lok6) – “music” and 樂 (ngok6) – “happy”: Same written form, different meanings, and subtle pronunciation differences.
  • 打 (daa2) – “to hit” and 打 (daa1) – “a set of “: These homographs have different meanings and are slightly pronounced differently.


Heteronyms are a subset of homographs. They are words that share the same written form (Chinese characters) but have different meanings and pronunciations. 

Yeah, they look the same as homographs. But, unlike homographs, heteronyms always have different pronunciations.

Here are five examples of Cantonese heteronyms to illustrate clearly:

  • 見 (gin3) – “to see” and 見 (gin6) – “opinion”: Same Chinese character, but different pronunciations and meanings.
  • 只 (zi2) – “only” and 只 (zek1) – “a classifier for animals”: Notice how the pronunciation and meaning change while the written form remains the same?
  • 打 (daa2) – “to hit” and 打 (daa1) – “a set of “: These heteronyms have different meanings and distinct pronunciations, despite sharing the same written form.
  • 過 (gwo3) – “to pass” and 過 (gwo2) – “excessive”: Same Chinese character, but different pronunciations and meanings, making them heteronyms.
  • 番 (faan1) – “turn” and 番 (faan6) – “a classifier for occurrences”: These words share the same written form but have different meanings and pronunciations, illustrating the complexity of Cantonese heteronyms.
A mother teaching her daugher to learn words in Cantonese language.

The Role Of Tones In Cantonese Homonyms

You see, Cantonese is a tonal language, meaning that a single syllable can have multiple meanings depending on its tone. 

With six distinct tones, it’s no wonder many words with the same sound might have entirely different meanings! 

In Cantonese, these tonal differences play a significant role in distinguishing between homonyms, particularly homophones. 

Recognizing the correct tone is essential for native and non-native speakers. It helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures effective communication.

An Overview Of The Six Cantonese Tones

Before we list some examples of tone-based homonyms, let’s briefly explain the six tones in Cantonese. Let’s take a quick look:

  • First tone (high level): A high, steady pitch.
  • Second tone (high rising): A rising pitch from mid to high.
  • Third tone (mid-level): A mid, steady pitch.
  • Fourth tone (low falling): A pitch falling from mid to low.
  • Fifth tone (low rising): A rising pitch from low to mid.
  • Sixth tone (low level): A low, steady pitch.

Examples Of Tone-Based Homonyms In The Cantonese Language

Now, let’s see some examples of tone-based homonyms in Cantonese. 

These examples will showcase how different tones can change the meaning of a word, even if it has the same sound.

  • 梨 (lei4) – “pear” and 離 (lei4) – “to leave”: These words share the same sound and tone, but their meanings are entirely different, which is what makes them homophones.
  • 高 (gou1) – “tall” and 膏 (gou1) – “paste”: A great example of how the same sound and tone can represent two distinct meanings!
  • 爸 (baa4) – “father” and 把 (baa2) – “to hold”: The same sound but with different tones gives these words entirely different meanings.
  • 時 (si4) – “time” and 詩 (si1) – “poetry”: A subtle change in tone, and you have two completely different words. Cantonese is truly fascinating!
  • 花 (faa1) – “flower” and 火 (fo2) – “fire”: Again, the same sound but different tones lead to entirely different meanings.

As you can see, the role of tones in Cantonese homonyms is both intriguing and vital. 

Understanding these tonal differences can significantly improve your Cantonese language skills and help you communicate more effectively.

Cheerful Asian young women sitting in a cafe while drinking coffee with friends and talking together.

Usage Of Cantonese Homonyms In Everyday Life

Cantonese homonyms are everywhere, adding humor, creativity, and depth to daily conversations. 

Ready to explore Cantonese homonyms in real-life scenarios? Let’s see how they enrich the language and challenge learners at the same time.

Wordplay And Puns Using Chinese Characters

The Cantonese people often use homonyms to create clever wordplay and puns, showcasing the richness and flexibility of the language. 

These puns can be found in jokes, riddles, and casual conversations, revealing cultural insights and sparking laughter among friends and family. 

Let’s have a look at some examples of homonyms in Cantonese jokes and riddles:

  • 唞 (tau2) – “sleep” and 刀 (dou1) – “knife”: A classic joke plays on the homophonic nature of these two words, with a punchline that hinges on the confusion between “sleep” and “knife.”
  • 粽 (zung2) – “rice dumpling” and 鐘 (zung1) – “clock”: A humorous riddle may ask what’s wrapped and tells time, with the answer being a mix-up between these two homophones.
  • 雞 (gai1) – “chicken” and 機 (gei1) – “machine”: A playful joke might involve a misunderstanding between someone asking for a “chicken” and the other person hearing “machine.”
  • 碌 (luk1) – “to roll” and 六 (luk6) – “six”: A Cantonese riddle could play with the similarity of these words, creating a fun puzzle that involves numbers and actions.
  • 蘋 (pan4) – “apple” and 平 (ping4) – “flat”: A pun-based joke might involve a character confusing an “apple” for something “flat,” leading to humorous misunderstandings.

Disambiguation Of Cantonese Homonyms

Sure, Cantonese homonyms can be challenging for a native English speaker, but fear not! There are ways to disambiguate them in both spoken and written forms. 

Here, we’ll explore techniques for distinguishing homonyms in spoken Cantonese, clarifying their meanings in written Cantonese, and providing examples of disambiguation in action.

Methods Of Disambiguating Homonyms In Spoken Cantonese

  • Pay attention to context: Context is critical to understanding the intended meaning of a homonym. Listen for clues in the surrounding conversation that might help clarify the meaning.
  • Use measure words: Measure words can help differentiate between homonyms that represent different types of Cantonese nouns, such as objects, animals, or people.
  • Restate or paraphrase: If you’re still uncertain, ask the speaker to rephrase their statement or provide more information to clarify the meaning.

Methods Of Disambiguating Homonyms In Written Cantonese

  • Recognize Chinese characters: Familiarize yourself with the writing system and unique characters for each homonym, as they often have different written forms despite having the same pronunciation.
  • Look for surrounding words: The words that come before or after a homonym in a sentence can provide clues to its meaning.
  • Rely on grammar: Sometimes, the grammatical function of a Cantonese word (e.g., verb, noun, or adjective) can help you determine which homonym is being used.

Examples Of Disambiguation In Action

Example 1: 唔該 (M4 goi1) – “Thank you” and 唔開 (M4 hoi1) – “Not open”

These words have the same pronunciation but different characters and meanings. 

In spoken Cantonese, context is crucial in determining which word is being used. 

For example, if someone hands you something and says “m4 goi1,” it likely means “thank you.” 

On the other hand, if you approach a door that won’t open and someone says “m4 hoi1,” it means “not open.”

Example 2: 白 (Baak6) – “White” and 伯 (Baak3) – “Uncle”

These words may sound the same but have different meanings and tones. 

In written Cantonese, context is also essential, as the two words are written differently. 

For example, if you see the character 白 in a sentence about colors, it likely means “white.” 

If you see the character 伯 in a sentence about family members, it likely means “uncle.”

More Examples Of Homonyms In Cantonese

Ready for more fascinating Cantonese homonyms? In this section, we’ll analyze ten more examples that highlight the diversity and charm of the Cantonese language. 

Cantonese HomonymMeaning 1Meaning 2
理 (lei5)to managea unit of distance (Chinese mile)
石 (sek6)stonetime
星 (sing1)starsurname
牙 (ngaa4)toothforked
跑 (paau2)to runbubble
米 (mai5)riceto be infatuated
紙 (zi2)paperbranch
度 (dou6)degreeto cross
沙 (saa1)sanda genus of plants (Cyperus)
禮 (lai5)mannerspear

We hope you’ve enjoyed discovering these captivating Cantonese homonyms and deepening your understanding of the language’s intricacies. 

As you continue to learn the Cantonese language, don’t forget to embrace the challenge and delight that homonyms bring to Cantonese. 

Keep exploring, practicing, and uncovering the hidden treasures in this dynamic language!

Learn Cantonese With the Ling app

Learn Cantonese Homonyms With Ling!

So, are you ready to explore the wonders of Cantonese homonyms and dive into the wondrous world of this tonal language? Check out the Ling app

Our super user-friendly platform is just what you need to help you get a grip on Cantonese homonyms, tones, and other essential language skills. 

We’ve got interactive lessons, quizzes, and audio materials to keep things interesting. 

What are you waiting for? Download the Ling app from Google Play or App Store today and kick off a fantastic language-learning adventure!

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