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Wordplay vs. Pun — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 3, 2023
Wordplay involves clever manipulation of words or phrases, while a pun is a form of wordplay that exploits multiple meanings for comedic or rhetorical effect.
Wordplay vs. Pun — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Wordplay and Pun

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Key Differences

Wordplay and pun are both creative manipulations of language, but they operate on different principles. Wordplay encompasses a broad range of techniques that play on words, sounds, and meanings. Pun, however, is a subset of wordplay that specifically uses words with multiple meanings or words that sound alike but have different meanings for humorous or rhetorical effect.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 03, 2023
Wordplay can be found in literature, poetry, jokes, and even in everyday conversations, where words are twisted, turned, and toyed with to achieve a particular effect, be it humor, emphasis, or irony. On the other hand, a pun specifically relies on the ambiguity of words or sounds to create its effect. It's a play on words where humor or emphasis is derived from a word's multiple meanings or from exploiting the similarity in sound between two words.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 03, 2023
To put it another way, all puns can be classified as wordplay, but not all forms of wordplay are puns. Wordplay is the umbrella term, and pun is one of the techniques that falls under this category. For instance, anagrams, palindromes, and acronyms are forms of wordplay but not puns.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 03, 2023
Additionally, wordplay can be used to achieve a wide range of effects, from humor to irony to poetic beauty. A pun, however, often has a comedic or light-hearted intent, aiming to elicit a laugh or a groan from its audience. This isn't to say that puns can't be profound or insightful; their primary characteristic is the playful use of word ambiguity.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 03, 2023

Comparison Chart

Definition

Creative manipulation of language
Play on words using multiple meanings or sounds
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Sep 03, 2023
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Scope

Broad, encompasses various techniques
Subset of wordplay
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Examples

Anagrams, palindromes, acronyms
"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana."
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Intent

Varied: humor, emphasis, irony, poetic
Often comedic or rhetorical
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Ambiguity

Can exist, but not necessary
Relies on ambiguity
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Compare with Definitions

Wordplay

A playful use of words to achieve humor or effect.
His icy stare comment in the winter was pure wordplay.
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Pun

Play on words producing a humorous effect.
She had a photographic memory but never developed it.
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Wordplay

Artful construction or usage of words and phrases.
The headline's wordplay caught everyone's attention.
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Pun

Wordplay using words that sound alike but mean different things.
I'm reading a book on anti-gravity; it's impossible to put down.
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Wordplay

Creative manipulation of language.
The poet's wordplay left the audience in awe.
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Pun

Humorous use of a word in a way suggesting different meanings.
I told my wife she was drawing her eyebrows too high; she looked surprised.
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Wordplay

A linguistic trick using arrangement or meaning.
The comedian's wordplay was the highlight of the show.
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Pun

A joke exploiting different meanings of a word.
I used to be a baker because I kneaded dough.
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Wordplay

Skillful use of words in a playful manner.
Her wordplay during the debate was commendable.
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Pun

A witty play on the multiple meanings of a word.
I'm on a whiskey diet; I've lost three days already.
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Wordplay

Witty or clever use of language
“J. B. Priestley saw such wordplay as a sign of shallowness and self-indulgence” (John Garth).
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May 12, 2018

Pun

The pun, also known as paronomasia, is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use of homophonic, homographic, metonymic, or figurative language.
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May 12, 2018

Wordplay

The act or an instance of using language in such a manner
“an old joke that made a wordplay on the surname of James Watt” (Sara Pritchard).
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May 12, 2018

Pun

A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
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May 12, 2018

Wordplay

A humorous play on words; such plays on words collectively.
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Pun

To make puns or a pun.
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Wordplay

A witty verbal exchange; such exchanges collectively.
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May 12, 2018

Pun

(transitive) To beat; strike with force; to ram; to pound, as in a mortar; reduce to powder, to pulverize.
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May 12, 2018

Wordplay

A more or less subtle playing upon the meaning of words.
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May 12, 2018

Pun

(intransitive) To make or tell a pun; to make a play on words.
We punned about the topic until all around us groaned.
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May 12, 2018

Wordplay

A humorous play on words;
I do it for the pun of it
His constant punning irritated her
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May 12, 2018

Pun

A joke or type of wordplay in which similar definitions or sounds of two words or phrases, or different definitions of the same word, are deliberately confused.
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Pun

: a Korean unit of length equivalent to about 0.3{{nbsp}}cm.
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Pun

To pound.
He would pun thee into shivers with his fist.
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Pun

To make puns, or a pun; to use a word in a double sense, especially when the contrast of ideas is ludicrous; to play upon words; to quibble.
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Pun

To persuade or affect by a pun.
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Pun

A play on words which have the same sound but different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation.
A better put on this word was made on the Beggar's Opera, which, it was said, made Gay rich, and Rich gay.
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Pun

A humorous play on words;
I do it for the pun of it
His constant punning irritated her
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May 12, 2018

Pun

Make a play on words;
Japanese like to pun--their language is well suited to punning
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May 12, 2018

Common Curiosities

What is the primary characteristic of wordplay?

Wordplay involves the creative manipulation of language for emphasis, humor, or effect.
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Sep 03, 2023

What makes a pun effective?

A pun's effectiveness often comes from its unexpected twist on word meanings or sounds.
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Sep 03, 2023

Are all forms of wordplay humorous?

No, wordplay can be used for various effects, not just humor.
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Sep 03, 2023

What is the primary intent behind using puns?

Puns often have a comedic or light-hearted intent.
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Sep 03, 2023

How is a pun different from general wordplay?

A pun is a specific form of wordplay that exploits multiple meanings of words or similar sounds for humor or emphasis.
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Sep 03, 2023

Does wordplay exist only in English?

No, wordplay exists in many languages and cultures worldwide.
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Can wordplay be visual?

Yes, wordplay can be visual, auditory, or both.
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Can a pun be considered wordplay?

Yes, a pun is a subset of wordplay.
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How can I recognize wordplay in a text?

Wordplay often involves clever or unexpected uses of language, be it through meaning, sound, or structure.
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Are wordplay and puns used only in informal contexts?

No, they can be found in both informal settings like jokes and formal contexts like literature and speeches.
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Sep 03, 2023

Are puns always meant to be funny?

While often comedic, puns can also be used for rhetorical or illustrative purposes.
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Can a single statement contain both wordplay and a pun?

Yes, since puns are a form of wordplay, a single statement can encompass both.
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Why is wordplay important in literature?

Wordplay can add layers of meaning, create emphasis, and engage readers in a unique way.
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Sep 03, 2023

Are puns a modern form of humor?

No, puns have been used for centuries across various cultures and languages.
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Sep 03, 2023

Can wordplay be unintentional?

While wordplay is often deliberate, unintentional wordplay can occur, especially in spontaneous speech.
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Sep 03, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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