lichen, liken

The words lichen, liken sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. Why do lichen, liken sound the same even though they are completely different words?

The answer is simple: lichen, liken are homophones of the English language.

  1. :: noun

    A fungus, usually of the class Ascomycetes, that grows symbiotically with algae, resulting in a composite organism that characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.

  2. :: noun

    Pathology Any of various skin diseases characterized by patchy eruptions of small, firm papules.

  3. :: verb-transitive

    To cover with lichens.

  1. :: verb-transitive

    To see, mention, or show as similar; compare.

Definitions from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition and Wordnik.

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About Homophones

Homophones (literally "same sound") are usually defined as words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.

If they are spelled the same then they are also homographs (and homonyms); if they are spelled differently then they are also heterographs (literally "different writing").