Heteronym (linguistics)
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Heteronym Linguistics
Euler diagram showing the relationships between heteronyms and related linguistic concepts.

A heteronym (also known as a heterophone) is a word that has a different pronunciation and meaning from another word but the same spelling. These are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, lead (a metal element) and lead (a leash or halter to direct an animal) are heteronyms, but mean (intend) and mean (average) are not (since they are pronounced the same). Heteronym pronunciation may vary in vowel realisation, in stress pattern (see also Initial-stress-derived noun), or in other ways.


A heteronym is a homograph that is not a homophone, a word that has a different pronunciation and meaning from another word with the same spelling. Heteronym pronunciation may vary in vowel realisation, in stress pattern, or in other ways.

"Heterophone" literally just means "different sound", and this term is sometimes applied to words that are just pronounced differently, irrespective of their spelling. Such a definition would include virtually every pair of words in the language, so "heterophone" in this sense is normally restricted to instances where there is some particular reason to highlight the different sound. For example, puns normally involve homophones, but in the case of heterophonic (or imperfect) puns, the two words sound different, and yet similar enough for one to suggest the other (for example, mouth and mouse).


Most heteronyms are doubles. Triple heteronyms are extremely rare; two examples, sin and mobile, are listed below.

Proper nouns can sometimes be heteronyms. For example, the final syllable of Oregon is pronounced like the word in by residents of that state in the United States, while in the name of the village of Oregon in Wisconsin, the final syllable is pronounced like the word on. Other examples include local pronunciations of Cairo, Georgia; Versailles, Kentucky; and Milan, Tennessee--compared to the more well-known Cairo, Versailles, and Milan--or the difference between the pronunciation of Louisville, Kentucky and the town of Louisville, New York .

There are also pairs which ignore case and include both initialisms and regular words, e.g., US and us.[]

Heteronyms can also occur in non-alphabetic languages. For example, the Chinese character ? can be pronounced háng, meaning "profession", or xíng, meaning "OK".


Examples sentences using heteronyms

  1. The weather was beginning to affect his affect.
  2. I met an august man last August.
  3. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  4. They were too close to the door to close it.
  5. Don't desert me here in the desert!
  6. Do you know what a buck does to does?
  7. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  8. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  9. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  10. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  11. Before I mow the lawn let me place this grain in the mow.
  12. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  13. I did not object to the object.
  14. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  15. He thought it was time to present the present.
  16. The farm was used to produce produce.
  17. I was reading a book in Reading, Berkshire.
  18. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  19. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  20. I seconded the motion that the official be seconded to another department.
  21. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into the sewer.
  22. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  23. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  24. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  25. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  26. The bandage was wound around the wound.
  27. I have a learner's permit that will permit me to practice driving.

Heteronymns with definitions

For a longer list, see wikt:Category:English heteronyms.

Examples of heteronyms in English
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
abstract a. existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence
v. consider (something) theoretically or separately from something else
abuse n. improper treatment
v. to use improperly
address AmE and BrE v. to speak to (address) the crowd
AmE BrE n. a postal address
advocate v. to argue for someone else
n. a person who speaks in support of something
affect v. to have an effect on
n. mood, emotional state
agape adv. open wide
, n. altruistic, beneficial love
allied a. The vice is of a great kindred: it is well allied.
a. The Treaty of Vienna had bound the Allied Powers to make war together upon Napoleon.
alternate adj. other
v. to take turns
alum n. (or v.) a type of astringent salt (or to chemically impregnate with that salt)
n. a past attendee or graduate (of either gender) of an educational institution
analyses n. plural of analysis
v. third person singular present of analyse
appropriate adj. suitable
v. to set apart for
attribute n. a characteristic
v. to associate ownership
articulate v. "The tourists are the ones who always try to articulate every syllable when they speak the language."
a. "In one decade, the image of youth went from radicals uttering rage-filled rhetoric to the much less articulate valley girl or surfer wannabe."
august/August adj. awe-inspiring, majestic, noble, venerable
n. the eighth month of the Roman, Julian, and Gregorian calendars
axes n. pl. of axis
n. pl. of axe
ay/aye . adv. He voted aye on the legislation he had sponsored
adv. They vowed their undying love for aye.[clarification needed]
bases n. plural of base
n. plural of basis
bass n. low in pitch
n. a fish
blessed adj. having divine aid
v. past tense of bless
bow n. a stringed weapon, or the initiator of sound in some stringed musical instruments.
n. an object that you clip or tie on to your hair to keep it from falling into your face
v. to bend in respect
n. the front of a boat or ship
buffet ~ n. sideboard meal
v. to strike
close v. to shut
adj. nearby
coincidence n. A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection
n. The fact of corresponding in nature or in time of occurrence
combine n. A farm machine that harvests and threshes
v. To bring two or more things together, mix
compact v. to compress
adj. small
complex n. A collection of buildings with a common purpose, such as a university or military base
, adj. Made up of multiple parts
compound n. A substance having definite proportions of elements
v. To make a situation worse
concert n. We saw the band in concert.
v. We had to concert all our energy to stay awake.
conduct n. action
v. to lead
confines n. pl. Work within the confines of the contract.
v. But the contract confines my creativity!
conflict n. The mother said to her belligerent son, "Violence is no way to resolve conflict!"
v. The two news reports seem to conflict each other.
console v. provide comfort from grief
n. control unit
content n. information
adj. satisfied
contract n. The contract was supposed to expire seven years after it was signed.
v. Derek firmly stated that he would rather contract pneumonia and die than stand outside wearing that ridiculous pink and green poncho.
convict v. to find guilty
n. one convicted
crooked v. I crooked my arm to show the sleeve.
a. Unfortunately, that just made the sleeve look crooked.
decrease v. To lessen
n. A diminution
defense n. The attorney gave a strong defense.
n. The coach put out his best defense. (dialectual, used in sports contexts)
desert n. an arid region
v. to abandon
discard n. Toss it in the discard pile.
v. But I don't want to discard it!
do , v. What do you think you are doing?
n. To warm-up, the singer sang the scale from do.
does n. pl. of doe
v. form of do
n. one spelling of the plural of do as a noun[] - e.g. hair does
dogged v. At night proctors patrolled the street and dogged your steps if you tried to go into any haunt where the presence of vice was suspected. (Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh)
a. Still, the dogged obstinacy of his race held him to the pace he had set, and would hold him till he dropped in his tracks. (Jack London, The Son of the Wolf)
dove n. a bird
v. Mainly American past tense of dive
ellipses n. Plural of ellipse
n. Plural of ellipsis
entrance n. doorway
v. to delight
exploit n. a heroic or extraordinary deed
v. to make use of or take advantage of
house n. a residential building
v. to place in residence
incense n. Dad, I bought this incense at the temple.
v. Big mistake. If you burn it here, you'll incense your mother.
increase (The accentuation shown here is not strictly followed.) /?n-'kri:s/ v. To get greater
/'?n-kri:s/ n. An augmentation
intimate v. to suggest
adj. very close
invalid adj. incorrect
n. a disabled person
laminate v. to assemble from thin sheets glued together
n. material formed of thin sheets glued together
lead v. to guide
n. a metal
learned adj. having much learning
v. past tense of learn
lima attributive A vegetable
pn. The capital of Peru
live v. to be alive
adj. having life
merchandise n. goods available for sale
v. to make (something) available for sale
minute adj. small
n. unit of time
mobile AmE , BrE n. The baby sat in awe at the bright colors on the mobile.
AmE , BrE a. Although most animals are mobile, the sponge is sessile.
pn. A city in Alabama
moped n. a small motorcycle
v. past tense of mope
mow n. a stack of hay, or the part of a barn where hay is stored
v. To cut something (especially grass or crops) down or knock down
multiply v. to increase
adv. in multiple ways
number n. a numeral
adj. more numb
object n. a thing
v. to protest
overall a. Overall, we didn't do too badly.
n. I need new overalls.
periodic a. Temperature shows periodic variation.
a. Periodic acid is an oxoacid of iodine.
polish v. to shine
adj. of, from, or native to Poland
present v. to reveal
n. a gift
n. the current moment (e.g. At present)
adj. existing in the immediate vicinity (e.g. Santa is present.)
primer AmE , BrE n. Book that covers the basic elements of a subject
n. An undercoat of paint
proceeds n. Revenue
v. Third person singular of the verb "proceed"
produce v. to make
n. fruit and vegetables
progress /pr?'?r?s/ v. I hope things will progress faster.
/'prr?s/ n. I haven't made any progress.
project n. an undertaking
v. to cast an image
putting v. pr. part. of to put
v. pr. part. of to putt
ragged v. She ragged on me about my ragged jeans.
a. But my ragged jeans are my trademark, I responded.
read v. present tense
v. past tense
rebel v. to resist
n. one who rebels
record n. physical information
v. to make a record
recreate v. to relax by leisure activity
v. to give new life or create again
refuse n. garbage
v. to decline
resign v. to quit
v. to sign again; re-sign
resume v. to start again
n. curriculum vitae (sometimes distinguished with acute accents; résumé)
root or ) n. The tree's root was rotted.
v. A pig can be trained to root for mushrooms.
row n.; v. a line; to paddle a boat
n. an argument
sake n. benefit
n. rice wine
second adj., n., v. ordinal of "two", 1/60 of a minute, to endorse a motion
v. to transfer temporarily to an alternative employment
separate a. This should be divided into packets of ten cartridges each, which should be rolled up in flannel and hermetically sealed in separate tin canisters. (Samuel W. Baker, The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia)
v. To stalk these wary antelopes I was obliged to separate from my party, who continued on their direct route. (Samuel W. Baker, The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia)
sewer n. drainage pipes
n. one who sews
shower n. precipitation
n. one who shows
sin n. a moral error
n. abbrev. for sine
n. Sumerian god of the moon
sow v. to plant seeds
n. a mature female in the swine species
subject n. a topic
v. to cause to undergo
supposed adj. being assumed to be
v. obliged to do
v. past sense of suppose
tear n. liquid produced by crying
v. , n. to separate
tier n. Our seats are in the third tier of the stadium.
n. Will the tier be around to make these knots?
transfer n. a movement of something from one place to another
v. to move something from one place to another (the verb can be accented on either syllable)
use n. function, benefit
v. employ, utilize
unionized adj. formed into a union
adj. not ionized
whoop v. Pa says he's gonna whoop you good if you don't learn some manners!
v. When they scored a goal, he began to whoop and holler.
wicked adj. bad, evil
v. past tense of wick (e.g. to wick away some liquid)
wind n. air movement
v. to tighten a spring
wound v. past tense of wind
n. , v. an injury

See also

External links

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