What type of whale is always sad? The answer is “the blue whale.” (Get it? “Blue whale” is a type of whale, and “blue” is another way to say “sad.”)
Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9! (Get it? “7 ate 9”!)
If you don’t get it, there’s a joke for that too:
These are all examples of a type of wordplay known as “puns.” Puns typically involve:
- words that sound the same but mean different things (“eight” and “ate”)
- words that are written the same but mean different things (“blue” as in the color and the emotion)
- words that sound similar (“donut” and “do not”)
Whether they make you laugh or groan, puns are popular in English! So today, we’ll talk about why learners should study them and also give you some fun ones to practice with.
Why You Should Learn About Puns
Studying puns also has many benefits for language learners. In addition to being a memorable way to build vocabulary, research has also found that practice figuring out puns helps raise learners’ language awareness and make them more relaxed and motivated to learn.
Plus, did you know that Shakespeare was famous for his puns? Or that Alice in Wonderland, a classic work of literature, also features many puns?
Puns have a long history in English and they’re still pretty much everywhere today, from news headlines and social media posts to commercials, the names of businesses and products, and more.
So you’ll want to know a thing or two about puns if you want to make sense of the English you see every day. But don’t take our word for it. Below are some examples of puns in the real world.
Examples of Puns in the Real World
A famous example from advertising is when an American jewelry company known as “Kay Jewelers” came up with this slogan in the 1990s: “Every kiss begins with a Kay.” This is a pun on the letter K (which starts the word “kiss”) and the name of their company.
And here’s a pun in an Instagram post by a US government agency:
This post is a pun on the idiom “turn the tide,” which means “to reverse a situation.” The word “tide” is also a reference to the ocean – the subject of the post. As you can see, the pun packs a lot of meaning and imagery into just a few words.
Since you can’t avoid puns, you might as well get some practice figuring them out! Below are some puns we picked especially for learners. Find your level and see how many you can get before looking at the answers under the pictures! The last one in each set is a challenge.
- What can you catch but not throw?
- Why can’t a bicycle stand on its own?
- At the beach, you can see waves. What about at a tiny beach?
- Identify the pun(s) in the following picture:
- You can catch a cold, but you can’t throw one!
- Because a bicycle is “two-tired.” This is a pun on “too tired” and “two-tired” (having two tires).
- Microwaves. This is a pun on “microwaves” which is made up of the prefix “micro” (very small) and the root “wave.”
- “You crack me up” is an expression that means “you make me laugh.” An egg needed to be “cracked” to make that sunny-side egg. And finally, there’s a crack in the egg!
For Intermediate Learners
- What starts with T, ends with T, and is full of T?
- What do astronauts do before throwing a party in space?
- Identify the pun: “I can’t stand sitting.”
- Identify the pun: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
The answers are:
- The word “teapot” starts and ends with the letter T and is full of tea!
- They planet. (“Planet” sounds like “plan it.”)
- The word “stand” has two meanings. The more basic one is to stand up. However, the phrase “I can’t stand … .” means “I don’t like … .” So this pun means “I can’t stand while sitting” and “I don’t like sitting.”
- “Time flies like an arrow” is an expression about how quickly time passes. The second sentence is a double-pun on the words “flies” (the noun not the verb) and “like” (“to enjoy”)
For Advanced Learners
- What flowers grow under your nose?
- What’s a snake’s favorite subject?
- Identify the pun: "Bugs really bug me."
- Identify the pun: “Atheism is a non-prophet institution." – George Carlin
- Tulips (two lips) grow under your nose.
- Snakes love history (hiss-tory – snakes “hiss”).
- To "bug" someone is to bother them. So this pun means, "Bugs really bother me."
- “Non-prophet institution” is a pun on “non-profit institution.” Atheism means believing there is no god, so of course atheists also don’t need prophets!
Have a Pun-derful Day
Before you go around making puns with everyone you meet, keep in mind that they are no longer as cool as they were during Shakespeare’s time. These days, they’re often called “dad jokes” as you can see in this video:
So while it might be fun to make some puns yourself, for now, try to focus on training your ability to recognize and understand them. The better you get at doing that, the more likely you are to come up with some witty puns yourself!
If you want to have more fun learning English (or simply want to practice English in a casual, stress-free way), book a free online English lesson with an Engoo tutor! You can even practice spotting puns with your tutor by reading Alice in Wonderland together – we have it in our World Literature materials.