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 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; three examples, sin, mobile and does, 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 (/ˈləvəl/) and the town of Louisville, New York (/ˈlɪsvɪl/).

There are also pairs which ignore case and 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".


Heteronymns with definitions[edit]


In some of these cases, American and British English pronunciations differ.

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

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 /əˈbjs/ n. improper treatment
/əˈbjz/ 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
/ˈædvəkɪt/ n. a person who speaks in support of something
affect /əˈfɛkt/ v. to have an effect on
/ˈæfɛkt/ n. mood, emotional state
agape /əˈɡp/ adv. open wide
/ˈæɡəp/, /əˈɡɑːp/ n. altruistic, beneficial love
allied /əˈld/ v. They allied themselves with the French.
/ˈæld/ a. The Treaty of Vienna had bound the Allied Powers to make war together upon Napoleon.
alternate /ˈɔːltərnət/ or /ɔːlˈtərnət/ adj. other
/ˈɔːltərnt/ v. to take turns
alum /ˈæləm/ n. (or v.) a type of astringent salt (or to chemically impregnate with that salt)
/əˈlʌm/ n. a past attendee or graduate (of either gender) of an educational institution
analyses /əˈnælɪsz/ n. plural of analysis
/ˈænəlzəz/ v. third person singular present of analyse
appropriate /əˈprpriət/ adj. suitable
/əˈprprit/ v. to set apart for
attribute /ˈætrɪbjt/ n. a characteristic
/əˈtrɪbjt/ v. to associate ownership
articulate /ɑːrˈtɪkjʊlt/ v. "The tourists are the ones who always try to articulate every syllable when they speak the language."
/ɑːrˈtɪkjʊlɪt/ 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 /ɔːˈɡʌst, ə-/ adj. awe-inspiring, majestic, noble, venerable
/ˈɔː.ɡəst/ n. the eighth month of the Roman, Julian, and Gregorian calendars
axes /ˈæksz/ n. pl. of axis
/ˈæksɪz/ 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.[clarification needed]
bases /ˈbsɪz/ n. plural of base
/ˈbsz/ n. plural of basis
bass /ˈbs/ n. low in pitch
/ˈbæs/ n. a fish
blessed /ˈblɛsɪd/ adj. having divine aid
/ˈblɛst/ v. past tense of bless
bow /ˈb/ 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
/ˈb/ v. to bend in respect
n. the front of a boat or ship
buffet /bəˈf/ ~ /ˈbʊf/ n. sideboard meal
/ˈbʌfɪt/ v. to strike
close /ˈklz/ v. to shut
/ˈkls/ adj. nearby
combine /ˈkɒmbn/ n. A farm machine that harvests and threshes
/kəmˈbn/ v. To bring two or more things together, mix
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/, /ˈkɒmplɛks/ adj. Made up of multiple parts
compound /ˈkɒmpnd/ n. A substance having definite proportions of elements
/kəmˈpnd/ v. To make a situation worse
concert /ˈkɒnsərt/ n. We saw the band in concert.
/kənˈsɜːrt/ 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 with each other.
console /kənˈsl/ v. provide comfort from grief
/ˈkɒnsl/ n. control unit
content /ˈkɒntɪnt/ 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.
/ˈkrʊkɪd/ a. Unfortunately, that just made the sleeve look crooked.
decrease /dɪˈkrs/ v. To lessen
/ˈdkrs/ n. A diminution
defense /dɪˈfɛns/ n. The attorney gave a strong defense.
/ˈdˈfɛns/ n. The coach put out his best defense. (dialectal, used in sports contexts)
desert /ˈdɛzərt/ n. an arid region
/dɪˈzɜːrt/ v. to abandon
discard /ˈdɪskɑːrd/ n. Toss it in the discard pile.
/dɪsˈkɑːrd/ 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)
/ˈdɒɡɪd/ 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. Mainly American past tense of dive
ellipses /ɪˈlɪpsɪz/ n. Plural of ellipse
/ɪˈlɪpsz/ n. Plural of ellipsis
entrance /ˈɛntrəns/ n. doorway
/ɛnˈtræns/ v. to delight
exploit /ˈɛksplɔɪt/ n. a heroic or extraordinary deed
/ɛksˈplɔɪt/ v. to make use of or take advantage of
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.
increase /ɪn-ˈkriːs/ v. To get greater
/ˈɪn-kriːs/ n. An augmentation
intimate /ˈɪntɪmt/ v. to suggest
/ˈɪntɪmət/ adj. very close
invalid /ɪnˈvælɪd/ adj. incorrect
/ˈɪnvəlɪd/ n. a disabled person
laminate /ˈlæmɪnt/ v. to assemble from thin sheets glued together
/ˈlæmɪnɪt/ n. material formed of thin sheets glued together
lead /ˈld/ v. to guide
/ˈlɛd/ n. a metal
learned /ˈlɜːrnɪd/ adj. having much learning
/ˈlɜːrnd/ v. past tense of learn
lima/Lima /ˈlmə/ n. or attributive A vegetable
pn. A city in Ohio, United States
/ˈlmə/ pn. The capital city of Peru
live /ˈlɪv/ v. to be alive
/ˈlv/ adj. having life
merchandise /ˈmɜːrənds/ n. goods available for sale
/ˈmɜːrəndz/ v. to make (something) available for sale
minute /mˈnjt/ adj. small
/ˈmɪnət/ n. unit of time
mobile/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
mow /ˈm/ n. a stack of hay, or the part of a barn where hay is stored
/ˈm/ v. To cut something (especially grass or crops) down or knock down
multiply /ˈmʌltɪpl/ v. to increase
/ˈmʌltɪpli/ adv. in multiple ways
number /ˈnʌmbər/ n. a numeral
/ˈnʌmər/ adj. more numb
object /ˈɒbɪkt/ n. a thing
/əbˈɛkt/ v. to protest
overall /vərˈɔːl/ a. Overall, we didn't do too badly.
/ˈvərɔːl/ n. I need new overalls.
periodic /pɪəriˈɒdɪk/ a. Temperature shows periodic variation.
/pɜːrˈɒdɪk/ a. Periodic acid is an oxoacid of iodine.
polish/Polish /ˈpɒlɪʃ/ v. to shine
/ˈplɪʃ/ adj. of, from, or native to Poland
present /prɪˈzɛnt/ v. to reveal
/ˈprɛzənt/ n. a gift
n. the current moment (e.g. At present)
adj. existing in the immediate vicinity (e.g. Santa is present.)
primer AmE /ˈprɪmər/, BrE /ˈprmər/ n. Book that covers the basic elements of a subject
/ˈprmər/ n. An undercoat of paint
proceeds /ˈprsdz/ n. Revenue
/prəˈsdz/ v. Third person singular of the verb "proceed"
produce /prˈdjs/ v. to make
/ˈprdjs/ n. fruit and vegetables
progress /prəˈɡrɛs/ v. I hope things will progress faster.
/ˈprɑɡrɛs/ n. I haven't made any progress.
project /ˈprɒɪkt/ n. an undertaking
/prˈɛkt/ 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.
/ˈræɡɪd/ a. But my ragged jeans are my trademark, I responded.
read /ˈrd/ v. present tense
/ˈrɛd/ v. past tense
rebel /rɪˈbɛl/ v. to resist
/ˈrɛbəl/ n. one who rebels
record /ˈrɛkərd/ n. physical information
/rɪˈkɔːrd/ v. to make a record
recreate /ˈrɛkrit/ v. to relax by leisure activity
/ˌrkriˈt/ v. to give new life or create again (some style guides specify a hyphen for this sense, to increase clarity: re-create)
refuse /ˈrɛfjs/ n. garbage
/rɪˈfjz/ v. to decline
resign /rɪˈzn/ v. to quit
/rˈsn/ v. to sign again; re-sign
resume /rɪˈzjm/ v. to start again
/ˈrɛzjʊm/ n. curriculum vitae (sometimes distinguished with acute accents; résumé)
retreat /riˈtrt/ v. to fall back from a battle front
/ˌrˈtrt/ v. to treat again (some style guides specify a hyphen for this sense, to increase clarity: re-treat)
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
second /ˈsɛkənd/ adj., n., v. ordinal of "two", 1/60 of a minute, to endorse a motion
/səˈkɒnd/ v. to transfer temporarily to an alternative employment
separate /ˈsɛprɪt/ 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 /ˈsjər/ n. drainage pipes
/ˈs.ər/ n. one who sews
shower /ˈʃ.ər/ n. precipitation
/ˈʃ.ər/ n. one who shows
sin/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 /ˈsʌbɪkt/ n. a topic
/səbˈɛkt/ v. to cause to undergo
supposed /səˈpz(ɪ)d/ adj. being assumed to be
/səˈpst/ v. obliged to do
/səˈpzd/ v. past sense of suppose
tear /ˈtɪər/ n. liquid produced by crying
/ˈtɛər/ v. , n. 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?
transfer /ˈtrænsfər/ n. a movement of something from one place to another
/trænsˈfɜːr/ v. to move something from one place to another (the verb can be accented on either syllable)
use /ˈjs/ n. function, benefit
/ˈjz/ v. employ, utilize
unionized /ˈjniənzd/ adj. formed into a union
/ʌnˈənzd/ adj. not ionized (some style guides specify a hyphen for this sense, to increase clarity: un-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 /ˈwɪkɪd/ 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. , v. an injury


In French, most heteronyms result from certain endings being pronounced differently in verbs and nouns. In particular, the third person plural verb ending -ent is silent.

Examples of heteronyms in French
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
affluent [afly] v. they pour in
[aflyɑ̃] n. a tributary of a river
as [ɑ] v. you have
[ɑs] n. an ace
bout [bu] n. length
[but] n. rope (in nautical usage)
content [kɔ̃t] v. they recount
[kɔ̃tɑ̃] adj. happy
convient [kɔ̃vi] v. they invite
[kɔ̃vjɛ̃] v. it is suitable
couvent [cuv] v. they brood (eggs)
[cuvɑ̃] n. a convent
éditions [editjɔ̃] v. we edited
[edisjɔ̃] n. publications
est [ɛ] v. he/she is
[ɛst] n. the East
excellent [ɛksɛl] v. they excel
[ɛksɛlɑ̃] adj. excellent
expédient [ekspedi] v. they send
[ekspedjɑ̃] n. an expedient
fier [fje] v. to trust
[fjɛʁ] adj. proud
fils [fis] n. son, sons
[fil] n. wires
négligent [neɡliʒ] v. they neglect
[neɡliʒɑ̃] adj. negligent
objections [obʒektjɔ̃] v. we objected
[obʒeksjɔ̃] n. objections
oignons [wa.ɲɔ̃] v. we anoint
[ɔ.ɲɔ̃] n. onions
parent [pa.ʁ] v. they adorn
[pa.ʁɑ̃] n. parent
portions [portjɔ̃] v. we carried
[porsjɔ̃] n. portions
relations [ʁəlatjɔ̃] v. we recounted
[ʁəlasjɔ̃] n. relations
résident [ʁezid] v. they reside
[ʁe.zi.dɑ̃] n. resident
violent [vjɔl] v. they violate
[vjɔlɑ̃] adj. violent
vis [vi] v. I live, I saw (passé simple)
[vis] n. screw, screws

Modern Greek[edit]

Modern Greek spelling is largely unambiguous, but there are a few cases where a word has distinct learned and vernacular meaning and pronunciation, despite having the same root, and where <ia> is pronounced /ja/ vs. /i.a/;[1][2] there are also a few cases where the different readings of <μπ> and <ντ> give different words.[3] Some of these distinctions are being neutralized in modern speech.[4]

Examples of heteronyms in Greek
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
άδεια [aðja] adj. empty
[aðji.a] n. leave, day off
βεντέτα [ven'deta] n. vendetta
[ve'deta] n. star (artist)
βιάζω [vjazo] v. I hasten
[vi.azo] v. I rape
καμπάνα [kam'bana] n. bell
[ka'bana] n. cabana
λόγια ['loʝa] n. words
['loɣi.a] adj. learnèd


Italian spelling is largely unambiguous, with a few exceptions:

  • open and closed <e> and <o> are not distinguished;
  • the voiced and unvoiced pronunciations of <z> are not distinguished;
  • stress is not marked except when it is on the final syllable.

When stress is on the final, the vowel is written with an accent: mori 'mulberries' and morì 'he/she died'. Some monosyllabic words are also differentiated with an accent:e /e/ 'and' and è /ɛ/ 'he/she is'. These cases are not heteronyms.

Some common cases:[5]

Pronunciations are shown using standard Italian orthography with the diacritic <´> for closed vowels <é> /e/ and <ó> /o/; and the diacritic <`> for open vowels <è> /ɛ/ and <ò> /ɔ/.
Examples of heteronyms in Italian Vowel quality difference
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
affetto affètto n. affection
affétto v. I slice
arena arèna n. arena
aréna n. sand
botte bòtte n. attacks, blows
bótte n. barrel
collega collèga n. colleague
colléga v. he/she connects
corresse corrèsse v. he/she corrected (correggere)
corrésse v. he/she ran (subj.) (correre)
credo crèdo n. creed
crédo v. I believe
colto còlto ppl. gathered
cólto adj. cultivated
corso còrso n. a Corsican
córso n. a course
córso ppl. run
esca èsca v. he/she exits
ésca n. bait
esse èsse n. the letter S
ésse pron. they (f.)
foro fòro n. forum, court
fóro n. a hole
fosse fòsse n. pits
fósse v. were (imperfect subj.)
indotto indòtto adj. ignorant
indótto ppl. induced
legge lègge v. he/she reads
légge n. law
mento mènto v. I lie
ménto n. chin
messe mèsse n. harvest
mésse n. religious mass
pesca pèsca n. peach
pésca n. fishing
pésca v. he/she fishes
peste pèste n. plague
péste adj. crushed (f.pl.)
péste n. footprints
re n. re (music)
n. king
scopo scòpo n. goal
scópo v. I sweep
sorta sòrta n. kind
sórta v. I rose
te n. tea
pron. you
tema tèma n. theme, subject
téma n. fear
torta tòrta adj., ppl. twisted (f. sing.)
tórta n. a torte
venti vènti n. winds
vénti n. twenty
volgo vòlgo v. I turn
vólgo n. the people
volto vòlto ppl. turned
vólto n. face
Stress difference
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
ancora àncora n. anchor
ancòra adv. again
ambito àmbito n. ambit, scope
ambìto ppl. longed-for
compito cómpito n. task
compìto ppl. polite, completed
cupido cùpido adj. covetous
cupìdo n. Cupid
nocciolo nòcciolo n. kernel
nocciòlo n. hazelnut tree
principi prìncipi n. princes
princìpi n. principles
retina rètina n. retina
retìna n. small net
seguito sèguito n. sequel
seguìto ppl. followed
Sofia Sòfia n. Sofia (Bulgaria)
Sofìa n. Sofia (name)
subito subìto v. undergone
sùbito adv. immediately

Voicing difference
Spelling Pronun. PoS Meaning
razza /'rattsa/ n. race, breed
/'raddzsa/ n. ray, skate


Dutch has heteronyms which vary in stress position, known as klemtoonhomogramen 'stress homograms', such as appel: /ˈɑpəl/ 'apple' vs. /ɑˈpɛl/ 'appeal' (formerly written appèl). Other examples include beamen, bedelen, hockeyster, kantelen, misdadiger, overweg, verspringen, verwerpen.

The word plant is generally pronounced /plɑnt/, but may be pronounced /plɛnt/ in the sense 'he/she plans'.


German has few heteronyms, for example:[6]

  • Some vary in stress position: umfahren 'to knock down' vs. 'to bypass'; übersetzen 'to translate' vs. 'to traverse'; Spiegelei 'fried egg' vs. 'mirroring'.
  • Some are compounded differently: Staubecken as Stau-becken vs. Staub-Ecken or Wachstube as 'Wach-stube' vs. 'Wachs-tube'; etc.
  • Several are borrowings: modern 'to molder' (derived from Moder) vs. 'modern' (borrowed from French) or Montage 'Mondays' vs. 'mounting, intalling, assembling' (the latter borrowed from French).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Holton, Peter Mackridge, Irene Philippaki-Warburton, Vassilios Spyropoulos, Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language, 2nd edition, 2012, ISBN 1136626387, p. 11
  2. ^ Nick Nicholas, answer to "In modern Greek, are there any two words with different spellings but with exactly the same pronunciation? Also, is there any single spelling which has two different pronunciations?", Quora.com, May 23, 2019
  3. ^ Demetrios E. Lekkas, comment to cited Nick Nicholas Quora answer
  4. ^ Nick Nicholas, "The hiatus of διαζύγιο 'divorce'", Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος: Set Union of Greek and Linguistics (blog), January 5, 2011
  5. ^ John J. Kinder, Vincenzo M. Savini, Using Italian: A Guide to Contemporary Usage, 2004, ISBN 0521485568, p. 83-87
  6. ^ Tatjana Lackner, "Homographe", Die Schule des Sprechens, January 12, 2018, [1]

External links[edit]