Heteronym (linguistics)

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Euler diagram showing the relationships between heteronyms and related linguistic concepts.

A heteronym (also known as a heterophone) is a word that is written identically but has a different pronunciation and meaning. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row (propel with oars) and row (argument) 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:

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

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, GA, Versailles, KY, and Milan, TN. There are also pairs which include both initialisms and regular words, e.g., US and us.[citation needed]

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

"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 obviously 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).

Further examples[edit]

Examples of heteronyms in English
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
abstract /ˈæbstrækt/ a. existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence
/æbˈstrækt/ v. consider (something) theoretically or separately from something else
abuse /əˈbjuːs/ n. improper treatment
/əˈbjuːz/ v. to use improperly
address AmE and BrE /əˈdrɛs/ v. to speak to (address) the crowd
AmE /ˈædrɛs/ BrE /əˈdrɛs/ n. a postal address
advocate /ˈædvəkt/ v. to argue for someone else
/ˈædvəkɨt/ n. a person who speaks in support of something
agape /əˈɡp/ adv. open wide
/ˈæɡəp/ noun asexual, spiritual love
allied /əˈld/ a. The vice is of a great kindred: it is well allied.
/ˈæld/ a. The Treaty of Vienna had bound the Allied Powers to make war together upon Napoleon.
alternate /ˈɒltərnət/ ~ /ælˈtɜrnət/ adj. other
/ˈɒltərnt/ v. to take turns
appropriate /əˈprpriət/ adj. suitable
/əˈprpri.t/ v. to set apart for
attribute /ˈætrɨbjuːt/ n. a characteristic
/əˈtrɪbjuːt/ v. to associate ownership
articulate /ɑrˈtɪkjəlt/ v. The tourists are the ones who always try to articulate every syllable when they speak the language.
/ɑrˈtɪkjəlɨt/ 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.
axes /ˈæksz/ n. pl. of axis
/ˈæksɨz/ n. pl. of axe
ay/aye /ˈ/ . adv. He voted aye on the legislation he had sponsored
/ˈ/ adv. They vowed their undying love for aye.
bass /ˈbs/ n. low in pitch
/ˈbæs/ n. a fish
blessed /ˈblɛsɨd/ adj. having divine aid
/ˈblɛst/ v. past tense of bless
bow /ˈb/ n. a stringed weapon
/ˈb/ v. to bend in respect
n. the front of a boat or ship
buffet /bəˈf/ ~ /ˈbʊf/ n. sideboard meal
/ˈbʌfɨt/ v. to strike
close /ˈklz/ v. to shut
/ˈkls/ adj. nearby
compact /kəmˈpækt/ v. to compress
/ˈkɒmpækt/ adj. small
complex /ˈkɒmplɛks/ n. A collection of buildings with a common purpose, such as a university or military base
/kəmˈplɛks/ adj. Made up of multiple parts
concert /ˈkɒnsərt/ n. We saw kd lang in concert.
/kənˈsɜrt/ v. We had to concert all our energy to stay awake.
conduct /ˈkɒndəkt/ n. action
/kənˈdʌkt/ v. to lead
confines /ˈkɒnfnz/ n. pl. Work within the confines of the contract.
/kənˈfnz/ v. But the contract confines my creativity!
conflict /ˈkɒnflɪkt/ n. The mother said to her belligerent son, "Violence is no way to resolve conflict!"
/kənˈflɪkt/ v. The two news reports seem to conflict each other.
console /kənˈsl/ v. provide comfort from grief
/ˈkɒnsl/ n. control unit
content /ˈkɒntɨnt/ n. information
/kənˈtɛnt/ adj. satisfied
contract /ˈkɒntrækt/ n. The contract was supposed to expire seven years after it was signed.
/kənˈtrækt/ v. Derek firmly stated that he would rather contract pneumonia and die than stand outside wearing that ridiculous pink and green poncho.
convict /kənˈvɪkt/ v. to find guilty
/ˈkɒnvɪkt/ n. one convicted
crooked /ˈkrʊkt/ v. I crooked my arm to show the sleeve.
/ˈkrʊkɨd/ a. Unfortunately, that just made the sleeve look crooked.
defense \di-ˈfen(t)s n. The attorney gave a strong defense.
\dē-ˈfen(t)s n. The coach put out his best defense.
desert /ˈdɛzərt/ n. an arid region
/dɨˈzɜrt/ v. to abandon
discard /ˈdɪskɑrd/ n. Toss it in the discard pile.
/dɪsˈkɑrd/ v. But I don't want to discard it!
do /ˈd/, /də/ v. What do you think you are doing?
/ˈd/ n. To warm-up, the singer sang the scale from do.
does /ˈdz/ n. pl. of doe
/ˈdʌz/ v. form of do
/ˈdz/ n. one spelling of the plural of do as a noun[citation needed] - e.g. hair does
dogged /ˈdɒɡd/ 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)
/ˈdɒɡɨd/ 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 /ˈdʌv/ n. a bird
/ˈdv/ v. past tense of dive
ellipses /ɨˈlɪpsɨz/ n. Plural of ellipse
/ɨˈlɪpsz/ n. Plural of ellipsis
entrance /ˈɛntrəns/ n. doorway
/ɛnˈtræns/ v. to delight
house /ˈhs/ n. a residential building
/ˈhz/ v. to place in residence
incense /ˈɪnsɛns/ n. Dad, I bought this incense at the temple.
/ɪnˈsɛns/ v. Big mistake. If you burn it here, you'll incense your mother.
intimate /ˈɪntɨmt/ v. to suggest
/ˈɪntɨmət/ adj. very close
invalid /ɪnˈvælɨd/ adj. incorrect
/ˈɪnvəlɨd/ n. a disabled person
laminate /ˈlæmɨnt/ v. to assemble from thin sheets glued together
/ˈlæmɨnɨt/ n. material formed of thin sheets glued together
lead /ˈld/ v. to guide
/ˈlɛd/ n. a metal
learned /ˈlɜrnɨd/ adj. having much learning
/ˈlɜrnd/ v. past tense of learn
lima /ˈlmə/ attributive A vegetable
/ˈlmə/ pn. The capital of Peru
live /ˈlɪv/ v. to be alive
/ˈlv/ adj. having life
minute /mˈnjt/ adj. small
/ˈmɪnət/ n. unit of time
mobile AmE /ˈmbl/, BrE /ˈmbl/ n. The baby sat in awe at the bright colors on the mobile.
AmE /ˈmbəl/, BrE /ˈmbl/ a. Although most animals are mobile, the sponge is sessile.
/mˈbl/ pn. A city in Alabama
moped /ˈmpɛd/ n. a small motorcycle
/ˈmpt/ v. past tense of mope
multiply /ˈmʌltɨpl/ v. to increase
/ˈmʌltɨpli/ adv. in multiple ways
number /ˈnʌmbər/ n. a numeral
/ˈnʌmər/ adj. more numb
object /ˈɒbɨkt/ n. a thing
/əbˈɛkt/ v. to protest
overall /vərˈɔːl/ a. Overall, we didn't do too badly.
/ˈvər.ɔːl/ n. I need new overalls.
periodic /pɪəriˈɒdɪk/ a. Temperature shows periodic variation.
/pɜrˈ.ɒdɪk/ a. Periodic acid is an oxoacid of iodine.
polish /ˈpɒlɨʃ/ v. to shine
/ˈplɨʃ/ adj. of, from, or native to Poland
present /prɨˈzɛnt/ v. to reveal
/ˈprɛzənt/ n. a gift
/ˈprɛzənt/ n. the current moment (e.g. At present)
/ˈprɛzənt/ adj. existing in the immediate vicinity (e.g. Santa is present.)
primer /ˈprɪmər/ n. Book that covers the basic elements of a subject
/ˈprmər/ n. An undercoat of paint
produce /prɵˈdjs/ v. to make
/ˈprdjs/ n. fruit and vegetables
project /ˈprɒɨkt/ n. an undertaking
/prɵˈɛkt/ v. to cast an image
putting /ˈpʊtɪŋ/ v. pr. part. of to put
/ˈpʌtɪŋ/ v. pr. part. of to putt
ragged /ˈræɡd/ v. She ragged on me about my ragged jeans.
/ˈræɡɨd/ a. But my ragged jeans are my trademark, I responded.
read /ˈrd/ v. present tense
/ˈrɛd/ v. past tense
rebel /rɨˈbɛl/ v. to resist
/ˈrɛbəl/ n. one who rebels
record /ˈrɛkərd/ n. physical information
/rɨˈkɔrd/ v. to make a record
refuse /ˈrɛfjuːs/ n. garbage
/rɨˈfjuːz/ v. to decline
resign /rɨˈzn/ v. to quit
/rˈsn/ v. to sign again; re-sign
resume /rɨˈzjm/ v. to start again
/ˈrɛzjʉm/ n. curriculum vitae (sometimes distinguished with acute accents; résumé)
root /ˈrt/ or /ˈrʊt/) n. The tree's root was rotted.
/ˈrt/ v. A pig can be trained to root for mushrooms.
row /ˈr/ n.; v. a line; to paddle a boat
/ˈr/ n. an argument
sake /ˈsk/ n. benefit
/ˈsɑːk/ n. rice wine
separate /ˈsɛprɨt/ 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)
/ˈsɛpərt/ 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 /ˈsj.ər/ n. drainage pipes
/ˈs.ər/ n. one who sews
shower /ˈʃ.ər/ n. precipitation
/ˈʃ.ər/ n. one who shows
sin /ˈsɪn/ n. a moral error
/ˈsn/ n. abbrev. for sine
/ˈsn/ n. Sumerian god of the moon
sow /ˈs/ v. to plant seeds
/ˈs/ n. a mature female in the swine species
subject /ˈsʌbɨkt/ n. a topic
/səbˈɛkt/ v. to cause to undergo
tear /ˈtɪər/ n. liquid produced by crying
/ˈtɛər/ v. to separate
tier /ˈtɪər/ n. Our seats are in the third tier of the stadium.
/ˈt.ər/ n. Will the tier be around to make these knots?
use /ˈjuːs/ n. function, benefit
/ˈjuːz/ v. employ, utilize
unionized /ˈjʉnjənzd/ adj. formed into a union
/.ʌnˈənzd/ adj. not ionized
whoop /ˈhwʊp/ v. Pa says he's gonna whoop you good if you don't learn some manners!
/ˈhwp/ v. When they scored a goal, he began to whoop and holler.
wicked /ˈwɪkɨd/ adj. bad, evil
/ˈwɪkt/ v. past tense of wick (e.g. to wick away some liquid)
wind /ˈwɪnd/ n. air movement
/ˈwnd/ v. to tighten a spring
wound /ˈwnd/ v. past tense of wind
/ˈwnd/ n. an injury

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