Heteronym (linguistics)

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 (/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.

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

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/ 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 /ˈɔːltərnət/ 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.
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
coincidence /ˈkɪnsɪdns/ n. A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection
/ˈkɪnsɪdəns/ n. The fact of corresponding in nature or in time of occurrence
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 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. (dialectual, 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 - 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 (The accentuation shown here is not strictly followed.) /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 /ˈlmə/ attributive A vegetable
/ˈlmə/ pn. The capital 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 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 /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
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)
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 /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
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

See also

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