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Heteronyms, Homonyms, Homographs and Homophones
by Lee Masterson

The English language is peppered with many anomalous words and spellings, many of which can make life difficult for a non-native to the language, attempting to learn it as a second language.

However, it can also be just as confusing to those who have lived their whole lives speaking and writing English as native-users. Spellings and meanings differ, accents can summon a completely new meaning and a missing letter can create an embarrassing mistake!

It seems that almost every source of research I looked up on the internet has a mild case of confusion over what words can be classified as what. So I took the literal meanings of each of the following definitions from the Oxford Concise Dictionary on my desk.

Let's take a look at some of the more commonly confused types of words.

Heteronyms are words that are spelled identically but have different meanings when pronounced differently, usually through accenting different parts of the same word.

For example: Lead, pronounced LEED, means to guide. However, lead, pronounced LED, means a metallic element.

Heteronyms are specific types of homographs in which the different pronunciations are associated with different meanings. Basically, words with one spelling, but two pronunciations and two unrelated meanings.


Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. In other words, Homonyms are words with one spelling and one pronunciation, but two unrelated meanings, such as bear or left or just or pole.


Homographs are words that are spelled the same but differ in meaning, derivation, or pronunciation. Basically, Homographs are words which have one spelling but two pronunciations and two distinct meanings or usages.

For example: Consider the word tear. Does it rhyme with pear/pair/pare? Or with hear/here?


Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, derivation, or spelling. In other words, Homophones are classified as words with two spellings and two meanings, but only one pronunciation.

For example: Like pear and pair. And pare. These words are spelled differently but sound the same. The English language is riddled with such aural ambiguities.

Unfortunately, many school teachers still teach that homonyms are words that sounds the same, regardless of spelling, such as to, too and two. This is technically incorrect - those three words are actually homophones, so please don't email me and tell me that I'm wrong - I'm simply quoting from sources that I trust far more than I would trust myself. (Oxford English Concise Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

If you've been paying attention, you should have noticed that the definitions for Heteronym and Homograph are the same! Only the homophone focuses on words spelled differently AND have different meanings, yet have the ability to sound the same.


Confused yet? Great! Let's get to the examples. Rather than supply an endless page of words and meanings, I've only listed the most obvious words for each category. For more detailed listings, please see the links at the bottom of the page.


Heteronyms/Homographs

Affect (ehFEKT)- to change; (AFFekt)- a person's feelings or emotion

Alternate
(ALternit)- the next choice; (ALternait)- switch back and forth

Bass BASE- a string instrument; BASS (rhymes with mass)- a fish

Close CLOZE- to shut; CLOS- near

Desert dihZURT- to leave ; DEZert- arid region

Dove DUV- a bird; DOEV- jumped off

Excuse EKskyooz- to let someone off; EKskyoos- a reason or explanation

House HAUS- a building that serves as living quarters; HOWZ- to provide with living quarters

Invalid inVALLid- not valid; INvallid- an ill person

Lead LEED- to guide; LED- a metallic element

Minute MINNit- 60 seconds; myNOOT- tiny

Number NUMber- one, two, three …; NUMMER- more numb [many dictionaries do not list this use, which suggests that "more numb" is preferred; however, the listed use is given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition, Electronic version.]

Perfect PERfekt- exactly correct; perFEKT- to make correct

Produce PROdoos- vegetables; proDOOS- bring forth

Record RECKord- a list; reKORD- to write down

Row ROH- a line; ROUW- a fight

Separate SEPerATE- to divide into groups; SEPret- not joined together

Tier TEER - layer TYER - a person who ties

Tear TARE- to rip; TEER- fluid in eye

Wind WHINEd- to coil up; WINd- the blowing air

Wound WOOND- to injure; WOWND- coiled up


True Homonyms

Bark - cry of a dog, fox or seal; outer protective sheath of the trunk of a tree

Bat - a bit of wood used in a game; a little furry critter

Bear Large mammal; to tolerate or support

Dear - regard with deep affection; expensive

Down - towards a lower place; soft fine feathers of a young bird

Exact - precise or accurate; inflict (revenge) on someone

Fawn - a baby deer; a colour; to be servile

Fine - of very high quality; a sum of money exacted as a penalty

Grave - Hole dug in ground to receive a coffin; giving cause for alarm.

Just - morally right and fair; barely or simply

Kind - considerate and generous; class or type of things having similar characteristics

Left opposite of right; departed

Mead - a drink made from honey; and a meadow

Order - arrangement of things to a particular sequence or method; authorative command or directive

Peak - pointed top of a mountain; stiff brim at front of a cap.

Pile a heap, the nap of velvet; or a haemorrhoid!

Pole ends of the axis of rotation; fishing rod; long piece of metal or wood,

Trip - to stumble or fall; journey or excursion

Wave - Motion with hand in greeting; ridge of water curling into shore


Homophones
accede, exceed
accept, except
acclamation,acclimation
ad,add
adds,adze
adieu,ado
adherence, adherents
adolescence, adolescents
aery,airy
affect,effect
aid,ade,aide
ail,ale
air,ere,err,heir
airs,errs,heirs
airy,aery
aisle,I'll,isle
ale,ail
all,awl
allied,elide
allowed,aloud
allude,elude
allusion,illusion
aloud,allowed
altar,alter
ant,aunt
arc,ark
are,r
assent,ascent
ate,eight
auger,augur
aught,ought
aunt,ant
aural,oral
away,aweigh
awed,odd
awful,offal
awl,all
awn,on
ax,axe,acts
ay,aye,eye,I,i
ayes,eyes
b's,bees
b,be,bee
bach,batch
bad,bade
bade,bad
bail,bale
bait,bate
bald,bawled
balks,box
ball,bawl
balm,bomb
band,banned
bans,banns
bard,barred
bare,bear
baron,barren
base,bass
based,baste
bask,Basque
batch,bach
bawl,ball
bawled,bald
bay,bey
bazaar,bizarre
beach,beech
beat,beet
beau,bow
been,bin
beer,bier
beetle,betel
bell,belle
belle,bell
benzene,benzine
berry,bury
berth,birth
better,bettor
bey,bay
bier,beer
bight,bite,byte
billed,build
bin,been
bird,burred
birth,berth
bite,bight,byte
bizarre,bazaar
blew,blue
bloc,block
blue,blew
boar,Boer,bore
board,bored
boatswain,bosun
Boer,boar,bore
bogey,bogie,bogy
bold,bowled
bolder,boulder
bole,boll,bowl
bomb,balm
boos,booze
booze,boos
bore,boar,Boer
bored,board
born,borne,bourn,bourne
bosun,boatswain
bough,bow
boulder,bolder
bow,beau
bow,bough
bowl,bole,boll
bowled,bold
box,balks
boy,buoy
brae,bray
braid,brayed
braise,brays,braze
brake,break
bray,brae
brayed,braid
brays,braise,braze
breach,breech
bread,bred
break,brake
bream,brim
bred,bread
breech,breach
brewed,brood
brews,bruise
bridal,bridle
brim,bream
broach,brooch
brood,brewed
brows,browse
bruise,brews
brute,bruit
buckle,buccal
build,billed
buoy,boy
bur,burr
burgh,borough,burro,burrow
burley,burly
burr,bur
burred,bird
bury,berry
bus,buss
bussed,bust
but,butt
buy,by,bye
byte,bight,bite
c's,seas,sees,seize
c,sea,see
cache,cash
Cain,cane
calendar,calender
calk,caulk
call,caul
can't,cant
canape,canopy
cane,Cain
cannon,canon
canopy,canape
canter,cantor
capitol,capital
carat,caret,carrot,karat
cash,cache
cask,casque
caste,cast
caster,castor
caught,cot
caul,call
caulk,calk
cause,caws
cawed,cod
cay,key,quay
cedar,seeder
cede,seed
ceil,seal
ceiling,sealing
cell,sell
cellar,seller
censer,censor,sensor
cent,scent,sent
cents,scents,sense
cereal,serial
cession,session
champagne,champaign
chance,chants
chanty,shanty
chased,chaste
cheap,cheep
check,cheque,Czech
chews,choose
chic,sheikh
Chile,chili,chilly
choir,quire
choler,collar
choose,chews
choral,coral
chord,cord
chute,shoot
cite,sight,site
clack,claque
claws,clause
click,clique
climb,clime
close,clothes
coal,cole
coaled,cold
coarse,course
coat,cote
coax,cokes
cocks,Cox
coco,cocoa
cod,cawed
coffer,cougher
coin,quoin
cokes,coax
cold,coaled
cole,coal
collar,choler
colonel,kernel
color,culler
complement,compliment
complimentary,
~complementary
con,khan
conch,conk
confidence,confidents
conformation,
~confirmation
conk,conch
coo,coup
coolie,coolly
coop,coupe
coral,choral
cord,chord
core,corps
corps,core
correspondence,
~correspondents
cot,caught
cote,coat
cougher,coffer
council,counsel
councilor,counselor
counsel,council
course,coarse
cousin,cozen
coward,cowered
cozen,cousin
crape,crepe
crawl,kraal
creak,creek
crepe,crape
crewel,cruel
crews,cruise,cruse
cruise,crews,cruse
crumby,crummy
cue,q,queue
cues,q's,queues
culler,color
currant,current
cygnet,signet
cymbal,symbol
dam,damn
Dane,deign
days,daze
dear,deer
dense,dents
descent,dissent
deuce,douce
dew,do,due
die,dye
dine,dyne
dire,dyer
discreet,discrete
dissidents,dissidence
do,doe,dough
doc,dock
dock,doc
does,doughs,doze
done,dun
douce,deuce
doughs,does,doze
doze,does,doughs
draft,draught
dual,duel
ducked,duct
dun,done
dye,die
e's,ease
earn,urn
ease,e's
eave,eve
effect,affect
eight,ate
elicit,illicit
elide,allied
ell,l
elude,allude
enumerable,innumerable
ere,air,err,heir
errs,airs,heirs
ewe,u,yew,you
ewes,u's,use,yews
eye,ay,aye,I,i
eyed,I'd
eyelet,islet
eyes,ayes
facts,fax
faery,fairy,ferry
faint,feint
fair,fare
faker,fakir
fakir,faker
fane,fain,feign
faro,Pharaoh
fate,fete
faun,fawn
fawned,fond
Fay's,faze,phase
fay,fey
faze,Fay's,phase
feat,feet
fellow,felloe
felt,veldt
fennel,phenyl
ferrule,ferule
fey,fay
fiance,fiancee
file,faille,phial
filet,fillet
fill,Phil
filter,philtre
fin,Finn
find,fined

Homophones
finish,Finnish
fir,fur
fisher,fissure
fizz,phiz
flair,flare
flee,flea
flew,flu,flue
flier,flyer
flocks,phlox
floe,flow
flour,flower
foaled,fold
fond,fawned
for,fore,four
foreword,forward
fort,forte
forte,fort
forth,fourth
forward,forewordfoul,fowl
fouler,fowler
fourth,forth
fowler,fouler
franc,frank
frays,phrase
freeze,frees,frieze
friar,fryer
fungous,fungus
fur,fir
fuse,fuze
Gael,Gail,gale
gaff,gaffe
gage,gauge
gait,gate
gale,Gael,Gail
gall,Gaul
gamble,gambol
gambol,gamble
gamin,gammon
gaze,Gay's,gays
gel,jell
genes,Jean's,jeans
gibe,jibe
gild,guild
gilt,guilt
gneiss,nice
gnu,knew,new
gored,gourd
gorilla,guerilla
grade,grayed
graft,graphed
graphed,graft
grate,great
graze,grays
grease,Greece
greaves,grieves
grill,grille
grip,grippe
grisly,grizzly
groan,grown
guessed,guest
guide,guyed
guild,gild
guilt,gilt
guise,guys
hail,hale
hair,hare
hairy,harry
hall,haul
halve,have
handsome,hansom
hangar,hanger
hare,hair
harry,hairy
hart,heart
hawk,hock
hay's,haze
hay,hey
haze,hay's
he'll,heal,heel
hear,here
heard,herd
heed,he'd
heir,air,ere,err
heirs,airs,errs
heroin,heroine
hertz,hurts
hew,hue,Hugh
hey,hay
hi,hie,high
hide,hied,Hyde
higher,hire
him,hymn
ho,hoe
hoard,horde
hoarse,horse
hock,hawk
hoes,hose
hole,whole
holey,holy,wholly
hoop,whoop
hostel,hostile
hour,our
house,hows
humorous,humerus
hurts,hertz
I'd,eyed
I'll,aisle,isle
I,i,ay,aye,eye
idol,idle,idyll
illicit,elicit
illusion,allusion
immanent,imminent
impassible,impassable
in,inn
indict,indite
inflection,inflexion
innumerable,enumerable
installation,instillation
isle,aisle,I'll
islet,eyelet
it's,its
j,jay
jam,jamb
Jean's,genes,jeans
jell,gel
jewel,joule
jibe,gibe
Jim,gym
jinks,jinx
jury,Jewry
k,Kay,quai
karat,carat,caret,carrot
Kay,k,quai
kernel,colonel
key,cay,quay
khan,con
knap,nap,nape
knave,nave
knead,kneed,need
knew,gnu,new
knight,night
knit,nit
knock,nock
knot,not
know,no
knows,no's,nose
kraal,crawl
l,ell
lac,lack
lacks,lax
lade,laid
lain,lane
lam,lamb
lap,Lapp
laps,lapse
lay,lei
lea,lee
leach,leech
lead,led
leaf,lief
leak,leek
lean,lien
leased,least
lessen,lesson
levee,levy
liar,lyre
licker,liquor
lie,lye
lieu,Lew,Lou
limb,limn
links,lynx
lo,low
load,lode,lowed
loan,lone
loch,lock
locks,lox
lode,load,lowed
loop,loupe
loos,Lew's,Lou's,lose
loot,lute
lose,Lew's,loos,Lou's
loupe,loop
lumbar,lumber
lye,lie
made,maid
magnate,magnet
mail,male
main,Maine,mane
Maine,main,mane
maize,May's,maze
mall,maul
mane,main,Maine
manner,manor
manor,manner
mantel,mantle
mantle,mantel
marks,Marx
marry,Mary,merry
marshal,martial
marten,martin
massed,mast
me,mi
mead,meed
mean,mien
meat,meet,mete
meatier,meteor
medal,meddle
meddle,medal
metal,mettle
mews,muse
might,mite
mil,mill
mince,mints
mind,mined
minor,miner
mints,mince
missal,missile
missed,mist
misses,Mrs.
moan,mown
moat,mote
mode,mowed
moo,moue
mood,mooed
moose,mousse
morn,mourn
mow,mot
muscle,mussel
muse,mews
mussed,must
mustard,mustered
nape,knap,nap
naval,navel
nave,knave
nay,nee,neigh
need,knead,kneed
new,gnu,knew
nice,gneiss
night,knight
nit,knit
no's,knows,nose
no,know
nock,knock
none,nun
not,knot
o,oh,owe
oar,o'er,or,ore
odd,awed
ode,owed
offal,awful
oleo,olio
on,awn
one,won
oral,aural
ought,aught
our,hour
p's,peas,pees
p,pea,pee
paced,paste
packed,pact
pail,pale
pain,pane
pair,pare,pear
palate,palette
pall,Paul,pawl
parish,pearish,perish
passed,past
patience,patients
pause,paws
pawed,pod
pawned,pond
paws,pause
pea,p,pee
peace,piece
peak,peek,pique
peal,peel
pearl,purl
peat,Pete
pedal,peddle
peer,pier
per,purr
petrel,petrol
pew,phew
Pharaoh,faro
phase,Fay's,faze
phenyl,fennel
phial,faille,file
Phil,fill
philtre,filter
phiz,fizz
phlox,flocks
phrase,frays
pi,pie
pick,pic
picks,pix
pidgin,pigeon
pilot,Pilate
pistil,pistol
place,plaice
plain,plane
plait,plate
plantar,planter
pleas,please
pleural,plural
plum,plumb
pole,poll
polled,poled
pommel,pummel
poor,pore,pour
populace,populous
praise,prays,preys
pray,prey
precisian,precision
presents,presence
pride,pried
prier,prior
prince,prints
principal,principle
prize,prise
profit,prophet
pros,prose
Psalter,salter
q's,cues,queues
q,cue,queue
quai,k,Kay
quarts,quartz
quay,cay,key
quean,queen
quire,choir
quoin,coin
r,are
rabbet,rabbit
rack,wrack
raid,rayed
rain,reign,rein
raise,Ray's,rays,raze
raiser,razer,razor

Homophones
rap,wrap
rapped,rapt,wrapped
rapper,wrapper
rapping,wrapping
ray,re
real,reel
red,read
reed,read
reek,wreak
residence,residents
rest,wrest
retch,wretch
review,revue
rex,wrecks
rheum,room
rheumy,roomy
rhyme,rime
rigger,rigor
right,rite,wright,write
ring,wring
ringer,wringer
road,rode,rowed
roam,Rome
roe,row
role,roll
rood,rude,rued
root,route
rose,roes,rows
rot,wrought
rote,wrote
rough,ruff
rouse,rows
rout,route
rue,roux
rumor,roomer
rung,wrung
rustle,Russell
rye,wry
sac,sack
sachet,sashay
sacks,sax
sail,sale
salter,Psalter
sandhi,sandy
sane,seine
saver,savor
sawed,sod
sax,sacks
scalar,scaler
scene,seen
scent,cent,sent
scents,cents,sense
scull,skull
sea,c,see
seal,ceil
sealing,ceiling
seam,seem
seaman,semen
sear,seer,sere
seas,c's,sees,seize
seed,cede
seeder,cedar
seek,Sik
sell,cell
seller,cellar
sensor,censer,censor
serf,surf
serge,surge
serial,cereal
session,cession
sew,so,sow
sewer,suer
sewn,sown
sex,sects
shanty,chanty
shear,sheer
sheikh,chic
shoe,shoo
shone,shown
shoot,chute
sic,sick
side,sighed
sigher,sire
sighs,size
sight,cite,site
sign,sine
signet,cygnet
Sikh,seek
sine,sign
sink,sync
Sioux,sue
sire,sigher
size,sighs
slay,sleigh
sleight,slight
slew,slough,slue
sloe,slow
slough,slew,slue
soar,sore
soared,sword
socks,sox
sod,sawed
sol,sole,soul
sold,soled
some,sum
son,sun
sonny,sunny
soot,suit
sot,sought
sough,sow
sown,sewn
spade,spayed
squalor,squaller
staff,staph
staid,stayed
stair,stare
stake,steak
stalk,stock
stanch,staunch
staph,staff
stationary,stationery
steal,steel
step,steppe
stile,style
straight,strait
straighten,straiten
sty,stye
subtler,sutler
succor,sucker
sue,Sioux
suer,sewer
suit,soot
suite,sweet
sundae,Sunday
sunny,sonny
sword,soared
symbol,cymbal
t's,teas,tease,tees
t,tea,tee
tacked,tact
tacks,tax
tail,tale
tapir,taper
taught,taut,tot
taupe,tope
team,teem
tear, tare
tear,tier
tense,tents
tern,turn
Thai,tie
the,thee
their,there
theirs,there's
thrash,thresh
threw,through
throe,throw
throes,throws
throne,thrown
thyme,time
tic,tick
tide,tied
tie,Thai
timbre,timber
time,thyme
to,too,two
toad,toed,towed
tocsin,toxin
toe,tow
told,tolled
ton,tun
tool,tulle
tooter,tutor
tope,taupe
tot,taut,taught
tow,toe
towed,toad,toed
toxin,tocsin
tracked,tract
travail,travel
tray,trey
trays,treys
troop,troupe
trussed,trust
turban,turbine
turn,tern
tutor,tooter
u's,ewes,use,yews
u,ewe,yew,you
undo,undue
unreal,unreel
urn,earn
vail,vale,veil
vain,vane,vein
vary,very
veldt,felt
venous,Venus
versed,verst
vial,vile,viol
vice,vise
victual,vittle
villous,villus
viscous,viscus
wade,weighed
wail,wale,whale
wailer,whaler
wain,wane,Wayne
waist,waste
wait,weight
waive,wave
waiver,waver
wale,wail,whale
walk,wok
wane,wain,Wayne
want,wont
war,wore
ward,warred
ware,wear,weir,where
wares,wears,where's
warn,worn
warred,ward
wary,wherry
waste,waist
wax,whacks
way,weigh,whey
Wayne,wane,wain
we'd,weed
we'll,weal,wheal,wheel
we're,weir
we've,weave
we,wee
weak,week
weal,we'll,wheal,wheel
weald,wield
weaner,wiener
weather,wether,whether
weave,we've
weed,we'd
weighed,wade
weight,wait
weir,ware,wear,where
weir,we're
weld,welled
were,whir
wet,whet
wether,weather,whether
whacks,wax
whale,wail,wale
whaler,wailer
wheal,wheel,we'll,weal
wheel,we'll,weal,wheal
where's,wares,wears
where,weir,ware,wear
wherry,wary
whet,wet
whether,weather,wether
whey,way,weigh
which,witch
whicker,wicker
whig,wig
while,wile
whin,win
whined,wind,wined
whinny,Winnie
whir,were
whirl,whorl
whirled,whorled,world
whirred,word
whish,wish
whit,wit
whither,wither
Whittier,wittier
who's,whose
whoa,woe
whole,hole
wholly,holey,holy
whoop,hoop
whop,wop
whorl,whirl
whorled,whirled,world
whose,who's
why,y
whys,wise,y's
wicker,whicker
wield,weald
wiener,weaner
wig,whig
wild,wiled
wile,while
win,whin
wind,whined,wined
Winnie,whinny
wish,whish
wit,whit
witch,which
with,withe
withe,with
wither,whither
wittier,Whittier
woe,whoa
wok,walk
won,one
wont,want
wood,would
wop,whop
word,whirred
wore,war
world,whirled,whorled
worn,warn
worst,wurst
wrack,rack
wrap,rap
wrapped,rapped,rapt
wrapper,rapper
wrapping,rapping
wreak,reek
wrecks,rex
wrest,rest
wretch,retch
wright,right,rite,write
wring,ring
wringer,ringer
write,right,rite,wright
wrote,rote
wrought,rot
wrung,rung
wry,rye
wurst,worst
y's,wise,whys
y,why
yawn,yon
yew,ewe,u,you
yews,ewes,u's,use
yoke,yolk
yon,yawn
yore,you're,your
you'll,yule
you,ewe,u,yew

Resources:
~ Oxford Concise Dictionary Tenth Edition
Heteronyms -
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/heteronym.html
~
http://www.toby-churchill.demon.co.uk/heteronyms.html
~
http://www.csar.cfs.ac.uk/staff/pickles/heteronyms.html
Homographs -
http://www.marlodge.supanet.com/wordlist/homogrph.html
~
http://members.tripod.com/~davespeed/homgrafs.htm
Homonyms -
http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html
~
http://www.write101.com/W.Tips67.htm
Homophones -
ftp://svr-ftp.eng.cam.ac.uk/pub/comp.speech/dictionaries/homophones-1.01.txt
~
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/homofone.htm



 



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