*also called paronomasia

What is a pun?

A pun is a piece of clever word-play in which different meanings of the same word, or words that sound the same, are used for a funny or intelligent effect.

Using puns

Although many people say they hate puns, generally it depends on how clever the pun is: weak or ‘cheesy’ puns often make people groan, but very witty puns are often quoted.

Before using a pun, consider
a) is it actually clever?
b) will the audience like it?

Examples using multiple meanings of the same word

PunDouble meaning
I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.hit
1. to realise
2. to get physically struck
The sign at the drug centre says ‘Keep off the grass’.keep off
1. don’t walk on
2. don’t use

1. vegetation used on lawns
2. marijuana
His politics is like my golf: one bad lie after another.lie
1. to say something untrue
2. how a golf ball sits on grass, determining how easy it is to hit

Examples using words that sound alike

PunSimilar sounding words
Women who wear $200 perfume have no common scents.scent: perfume
common sense: have generally good judgement
It’s not that I dislike school; it’s just I don’t like the principal of it.principal: head of a school
principle: concept, idea
Bugs are very religious – they are all in sects.sect: a religious group
insect: a small 6-legged animal

Puns on street signs and in headlines

Many shops use puns in their names, and a lot of tabloid newspapers like to use them in headlines.

PunPlay on words
Frame Set and Match
(shop selling picture frames)
Game, set and match
(expression used in tennis)
Just Falafs
(falafel restaurant)
Just for laughs
(expression meaning its just for fun)
We will dye for you
(Chalfont clothes dying company)
I will die for you
Gord Help Us Now
Daily Express headline when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister)
God help us now
Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic are Atrocious
(Sun headline when Inverness Caledonian Thistle upset Celtic in the Scottish Cup)
(song from Mary Poppins)

Puns in literature

Whilst puns in comedy can be obvious, puns in literature tend to be more subtle.

PunPlay on word
Upon this rock I shall build my church.

– Jesus, talking to Peter in The Bible
The name ‘Peter’ means rock
Tomorrow…you shall find me a grave man.

– The dying Mercutio speaking to Romeo, who thinks Mercutio is joking, in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
1. serious, not joking
2. the place a dead body is placed
Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Romeo: You have dancing shoes with nimble soles. I have a soul of lead.

– The depressed Romeo telling the Mercutio he doesn’t wish to dance in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
sole: the bottom of the foot
soul: spirit
If you see Kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me

– from Ulysses by James Joyce
Lines 1 and 3 spell out insults