The pun is a literary device based on the confusing use of a word that has several meanings or two equally sounding words with different meanings. Typically, puns are used as a joke and can produce a humorous effect resulting from a successful collision between two meanings.


Puns are based primarily on the use of homophones and homonyms. The Cambridge Dictionary cites the following kind of pun: “What’s black and white and red (= read) all over?” “A newspaper.” In this case, the words “red” and “read” are homophones, because although they sound similar, they are spelled differently and have different meanings.

It should be noted that puns are not specific to English, and there are many examples of such use in other languages. Similar to other literary devices, puns can be used in any speech, both written and oral. They are used in everyday conversational speech, and sometimes stand-up comedians make some of their jokes out of them.

Oftentimes, puns are used as a special technique in literature. Numerous examples can be found in the writings of one of the classics of English dramaturgy, William Shakespeare. For instance, his historical play “Richard III” begins with the phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent… Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” In the theatre play, you can hear the word “sun” from the stage and understand it as the word “son.”

In this case, the pun does not produce a humorous effect, but rather has a symbolic meaning, which is significant for the beginning of the play. Thus, puns are more often used as jokes in more everyday language and speech genres. However, writers and other language masters have frequently used homonyms and homophones in such a way, that a pun became a special technique of symbolization or interpretation.