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When we use the homophones in sentence, usually the meaning is clear. But anyway, do Koreans face situations, when the meaning of any word can remain unclear?

Being a beginner, I heard 석탄의 삼분의 이를 생산하다, and understood that the speaker means 1/3, but the same pronunciation could be heard for 석탄의 삼분의 일을 생산하다.

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  • Short Answer: Yes. Although the context clarifies the meaning, it can also be uncertain. There are some strategies to avoid such situations. – Klmo Mar 5 '20 at 9:26
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    Although 2/3를 and 1/3를 are both pronounced as [삼부네 이를], most koreans accentuate this phrase differently. For 1/3, the accent is placed on '이', and for 2/3, '를'. – Jihyung Kang Mar 9 '20 at 14:06
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Yes, homophones and also homonyms can. Spelling errors occur frequently with them, even when the context is clear.

These are some other examples for Korean homophones (if we ignore the sound duration):

  • 가늠 and 간음

  • 가치 and 같이

  • 갑 and 값

  • 나아 (낫- + -아) and 낳아 (낳- + -아)

  • 낟, 낫, 낮, 낯, and 낱

  • 낟알 and 낱알

  • 낫다 and 낮다

  • 너머 and 넘어

  • 느리다 and 늘이다

  • 드리다 and 들이다

  • 묵다 and 묶다

  • 반드시 and 반듯이

  • 부치다 and 붙이다

  • 빗, 빚, and 빛

  • 업다 and 없다

  • 오른쪽 and 옳은 쪽

  • 입 and 잎

  • 조리다 and 졸이다

  • 학문 and 항문

  • 흑색 and 흙색

Some clever advertisers use these words intentionally. For example,

빛나는 사인이 있는가 하면 빚내는 사인이 있습니다

uses the homophones 빛내다 and 빚내다. Both 빛내는 (not 빛나는) and 빚내는 are pronounced as 빈내는.

Absol brought a great example for the numbers 2 and e.

The majority of Koreans, even Seoulites, actually do not speak in the standard Korean. They are not aware that the correct pronunciation of the number 2 is 이ː (Please note the symbol ː) because they do not care about a long syllable now. This is the main reason that people are unable to distinguish between 일을 (1을) and 이를 (2를). If the speaker cares about the standard Korean, she/he will pronounce 일을 and 이를 as 이를 and 이ː를, respectively, although the listener may not catch the difference.

Jihyung Kang mentioned a strategy to avoid the confusion using accents. I would say that there is another useful strategy. Taking the symbol # as the pause marker, we can pronounce 일을 and 이를 as 일#을 and 이(ː)#를, respectively. I use this way in everyday conversation.

Where pauses do not make any difference, I put either additional words or collocations instead to clarify what I mean. Using synonyms and paraphrases is a good solution, too. For example, I need to say

백색과 상반되는 흑색을 써라.

or

검은색을 써라.

when the listener takes "흑색을 써라" as "흙색을 써라." For 삼 분의 일 and 삼 분의 이, we can use 약 삼십삼 퍼센트 and 약 육십칠 퍼센트 instead. There are still other ways to paraphrase 삼 분의 일 and 삼 분의 이.

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Yes, we do have such situations. Here is a very well-known example: 2 and e both have the same pronunciation "이". So it is almost impossible to distinguish the following: 2², e², 2^e. and e^e ("이의 이승"). However, those who speak southeastern dialect put the accent on e (which is actually closer to how native english speakers pronounce it) and not on 2, so they can easily distinguish these homophones. So, we do have such situations, but regional dialect speakers face less such cases than the standard Korean (that is, Seoul dialect) speakers. You might want to check this video: https://youtu.be/fRGd3calqQU

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