What is a Pun in Literature? Definitions, Examples of Puns in Literature

Pun definition: A pun is defined as a play on words devised in order to create humor for the intended audience.

What is a Pun?

Puns are plays on words devised for the purpose of creating humor for the audience. These plays on words may come from words that sound the same but have different spellings/meanings, or one word that itself has more than one meaning. Jokes that are in the form of puns may seem cheesy, but they are an artful, clever use of language.

Pun Examples

  • Have you ever eaten a clock? It’s very time consuming
    • Time consuming = pun
    • In this example, the phrase “time consuming” is a pun. It holds two different meanings: eating is time consuming as well as a time consuming clock.
  • Animal puns? Toucan play that game.
    • Toucan = pun
    • In this example, the word “toucan” has two meanings in the joke: toucan the animal as well as it sounding like the number phrase “two can.”

Modern Examples of Puns

Typically, the common examples of puns found today are through witty remarks made by people:

  • Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side got cut off? He’s all right now.
    • All right = pun
  • I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.
    • Interest = pun

Puns vs. Jokes

Because puns are so often used to create humor, people may tend to think that they are synonymous with jokes.

While these two are similar, they are not the same device. In contrast to jokes, which are always intended to create humor, puns at times may be a type of joke or they may be used as a rhetorical device.

The Function of Puns in Literature

In literature, puns are used to create humor in the scene through their lighthearted, witty nature. While puns at times may seem silly or cheesy, they are an artful way to use words and often receive positive reactions from the audience if they are aware of the multiple meanings of the words used in the text.

Examples of Puns in Literature

One of the most famous artists of puns was the playwright William Shakespeare.

In his tragedy Romeo and Juliet, he used puns in scenes that allowed for comic relief in an otherwise serious play. Romeo’s friend Mercutio uses several puns throughout the play showing his witty personality.

After being stabbed by Tybalt, Mercutio exclaims, “ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man”. In this line, the word “grave” holds two meanings creating a pun:

  • Grave = serious
  • Grave = dead

In Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, the title itself is a pun. The word earnest is in reference to dictionary definition of the word as well as the name Ernest. By including a pun in the title, it foreshadows the clever and witty aspects of the play.

Summary: What Are Puns?

Define pun in literature: In summation, puns are plays on words typically used to create a humorous effect on the audience.

Final Example:

In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Mercutio and Romeo are having a heated debate in regards to the importance of dreams. During this debate the two exchange several puns. Mercutio declares that “dreamers often lie,” and Romeo creates a pun on the word “lie” with his response, “in bed asleep…while they do dream things that are true.” By including puns in this argument, it relieves some of the tension in addition to showing the cleverness of the two.