Heteronyms (Heter = Different; Onyms = names) are words that are spelled the same but have a different sound and meaning (tear pronounced tair vs. tear pronounced teer). In most cases, heteronyms are the result of one pronunciation being a noun and another being a verb.
I propose we coin a term: heterophone (Hetero = different; Phone = sound). I think it better fits the definition of heteronym because in the examples below, the names aren’t different (e.g., tear pronounced tair vs. tear pronounced teer); what’s different is the way they sound. What do you think? Homographs (Homo = same; Graph = written) might also work, but not all homographs are pronounced differently (bear—the animal) vs. (bear—to carry or support). Be sure to scroll down to view the entire list of heteronyms. If you wish, send in your own examples to be displayed. Don’t forget to tell me your first name or screen name and age.
Note: Although it’s best to stick with the way you’ve learned it, are learning it or will learn it in school, here is how I would classify things (and it varies somewhat from the norm):
Homophone (different spelling; same sound)
Homograph (same spelling; same sound)
“Heterophone” (same spelling; different sound)
Gill vs. Gill
Gill (pronounced jil) four fluid ounces as in, This recipe calls for a gill of cream.
Gill (pronounced gil) the organ that allows fish to breath underwater as in, Here is a brief explanation of how fish breath. Fish gulp water through their mouth. The gills absorb the oxygen from the water and the gill covers open to let the water out again.
Mow vs. Mow. vs. Mow
Mow (pronounced moh) to cut down (grass) as in, As part of the yard’s upkeep, I mow the lawn weekly and weed semimonthly. Mow (pronounced mou) a stack of hay or grain as in, While checking his inventory, the farmer realized that his supply of mow would run out before the end of the month.
Mow (pronounced mou or moh) to make a derisive grimace as in, She mowed at me and walked away laughing.
Incense vs. Incense
Incense (pronounced in-sens) a substance that engenders a sweet smell when burning as in, The Buddhist monk burned incense in memory of his forefathers.
Incense (pronounced in-sens) to make angry as in, The constant bickering among the members of the board began to incense the chairperson.
Sake vs. Sake
Sake (pronounces seyk) purpose or motive as in, For the sake of keeping peace in the family, John decided not to sell the family heirlooms.
Sake (pronounced sah-kee) a Japanese rice wine as in, As part of the Japanese restaurant’s Grand Opening celebration, customers were given two complimentary cups of sake. Note: Saki (pronounced sah-kee) is also an acceptable spelling as is Saké.
Read vs. Read
Read (pronounced reed) to be able to understand the meaning of words, symbols, etc. as in, I read daily to increase both my vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Read (pronounced red) knowledge gained by reading as in, Mark is well-read. He possesses a great deal of knowledge in many subjects.
Present vs. Present
Present (pronounced prez-uh nt) being in the place in question as in, I appreciate your modesty, but now I know for sure that you were the person who saved my life. The police said that no one else was present at the scene of the accident; occurring now as in, The present governor of New York is Andrew Mark Cuomo.
Present (pronounced pri-zent) to give as an award as in, I am proud to present to you this plaque in honor of your heroic deed; to introduce a person to others as in, The master of ceremonies approached the microphone and said, “It gives me great pleasure to present to you one of the greatest basketball players of all time—Michael Jordan.”
Job vs. Job
Job (pronounce johb) a book in the Old Testament that tells the story of Job, a Hebrew patriarch who endured many hardships. Job is known for his unusual patience in times of adversity. If you say, That person has the patience of Job, you are saying that he/she has an uncanny ability to remain calm under adverse conditions.
Job (pronounced job) a portion of work that needs to be completed as in, The gardener will finish the job tomorrow; a paid position as in, I recently got a job as a schoolteacher.
Patent vs. Patent
Patent (pronounced pat-nt, peyt-nt ~ British) a document giving an inventor the sole right to make, use, or sell his/her invention as in, I am going to patent my invention before I go public with it.
Patent (pay-tent) obvious as in, After careful review, Cassandra expressed her patent dislike of the plan; open as in, Patent blood vessels are necessary for proper circulation.
Lower vs. Lower
Lower (pronounced loh-er) less high in relation to something else as in, The ceiling in the basement is lower than the ceiling in the living room.
Lower (pronounced lou-er) to frown as in, She had a lowered look on her face after she was given detention.
Tarry vs. Tarry
Tarry (pronounced tahr-ee) tar-like as in, We had difficulty removing the tarry substance from our hands.
Tarry (pronounced tar-ee) to delay in doing, going, or coming as in, Tarry not! I need to speak with you this instant; or Tarry not! This package must be delivered immediately; to remain (in a place) as in, She tarried in Virginia on her way to Georgia.
Converse vs. Converse
Converse (pronounced kon-vurs) opposing statements as in, Some scientists believe that there is global warming, while others espouse the converse view.
Converse (pronounced kuh n-vurs) to hold a conversation as in, I found it easy to converse with Tara. She is both humorous and well versed in many subjects.
Console vs. Console
Console (pronounced kon-sohl) a frame containing the organ’s keyboards, etc. as in, After bowing to the audience, the organist sat at the console and began to play Toccata and Fugue BWV 538 by Bach; a cabinet as in, After several months of searching, Janet found the perfect console on which to place her TV set.
Console (pronounced kuh n-sohl) to comfort in time of sorrow as in, I took it upon myself to console the grieving widow.
Compound vs. Compound
Compound (pronounced kom-pound) an enclosure in which a house stands as in, We marveled at the sheer size of the Vanderbilt compound.
Compound (pronounced kom-pound) To add or increase as in, At this point, saying anything more will only compound the gravity of the situation; to combine (e.g., ingredients) as in, The Pharmacist used his pestle and mortar to compound an ointment to sooth Johnny’s skin irritation.
Impress vs. Impress
Impress (pronounced im-pres) a mark pressed on or into something as in, Sam had his company logo impressed on all his stationery.
Impress (pronounced im-pres) to make a person form a strong, usually favorable impression of something as in, I was impressed by her ability to remain calm under such harrowing circumstances.
Buffet vs. Buffet
Buffet (pronounced buh-fey) food laid out on a table or sideboard as in, To set up an elaborate and elegant buffet requires a knowledgeable and dedicated staff. Buffet can also refer to the table itself.
Buffet (pronounced buhf-it) a blow, usually with the hand as in, The child began to wail when he received a buffet on his arm.
Primer vs. Primer
Primer (pronounced prahy-mer) a substance used to prepare a wall for painting as in, The painter first coated the wall with a primer, then completed the job using latex paint.
Primer (pronounced prim-er) an elementary textbook as in, The teacher used the primer to teach her students the fundamentals of reading and spelling. The “ahy” sounds like eye.
Defect vs. Defect
Defect (pronounced dee-fekt) an imperfection as in, The VCR did not run properly because it had a defect in one of its components.
Defect (pronounced di-fekt) to desert one’s country as in, Everyone was in disbelief when the much revered war veteran decided to defect to the Soviet Union.
Record vs. Record
Record (pronounced rek-erd) written information preserved in a permanent form as in, The stenographer kept a record of the court’s proceedings; or Not only did Jessica earn straight A’s in high school, but she had a perfect attendance record as well.
Record (pronounced ri-kawrd) to set down in permanent form as in, I am going to record my colleague’s valediction speech so that I will have something to remember him by.
Desert vs. Desert
Desert (pronounced dez-ert) dry and barren land as in, The largest desert in the world is the Sahara. The Sahara, which covers most of North Africa, extends more than 3,000 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
Desert (pronounced di-zurt) to abandon as in, Seldom will an animal desert her young. Do not confuse Desert (to abandon) with Dessert (sweet food, cheese, fruit, etc. served after meals). See the “Mnemonics” section for a helpful way to distinguish these two words.
Appropriate vs. Appropriate
Appropriate (pronounced uh-proh-pree-it) proper as in, Even though your younger brother may have provoked you, you never should have shoved him. Given that you are the older sibling, the appropriate thing to do is to apologize to him for your behavior and counsel him on his behavior.
Appropriate (pronounced uh-proh-pree-eyt) to set aside (money) for a certain purpose as in, The Federal Government appropriates funds for disaster relief.
Contest vs. Contest
Contest (pronounced kon-test) a competition as in, Michael has won the pie-eating contest four years in a row. Contest (pronounced kuh n-test) to dispute, to challenge as in, This past presidential election was hotly contested. Content vs. Content Content (pronounced kon-tent) what is contained in something as in, Chicken has a high protein content, meaning that it is rich in protein. Content (pronounced kuh n-tent) satisfied as in, What I like best about Jamie is that she is not materialistic. She is quite content with what she has.
Blessed vs. Blessed
Blessed (pronounced blest) to be fortunate in having as in, My wife and I have been blessed with two healthy children.
Blessed (pronounced bles-id) holy or sacred as in, The Eucharist, also known as the Blessed Sacrament, is the chief act of worship in many Christian churches wherein bread and wine are consecrated and consumed in remembrance of Jesus’ death.
Attribute vs. Attribute
Attribute (pronounced uh-trib-yoot) to regard as resulting from a specified cause as in, He attributed his success to hard work and determination, rather than his intelligence.
Attribute (pronounced a-truh-byoot) a quality or characteristic of anything as in, Altruism is one of Tracy’s most noteworthy attributes.
Live vs. Live
Live (pronounced liv) to have life as in, Man cannot live on bread alone; where one resides as in, I live in New York City.
Live (pronounced līv) actual, not fake as in, I heard a noise. We might have a real live burglar in our house; not taped or recorded beforehand as in, This show is coming to you live.
The show is coming to you live means that it wasn’t taped or edited beforehand. Another example would be A live coal, which means a glowing, burning coal.
The horizontal mark above the ī in live is called a macron (pronounced mey-kron or mak-ron). This mark often indicates a long vowel sound. In this case, the ī in live is pronounced like the pronoun I.
Learned vs. Learned
Learned (pronounced lurnd) the past tense of learn; to have gained knowledge as in, He learned a wealth of information in school.
Learned (pronounced lur-nid) knowledge obtained by study as in, Learned men and women are sought-after to become college professors.
Use vs. Use
Use (pronounced yooz) to serve a purpose as in, I use a calendar to keep track of upcoming events.
Use (pronounced yoos) being used as in, Certain words that are currently in use have only recently been accepted as proper English; or The outdated equipment is no longer in use.
Graduate vs. Graduate
Graduate (pronounced graj-oo-eyt) the successful completion of a course of study as in, Judy’s goal is to graduate from college a year early.
Graduate (pronounced graj-oo-it) a person who completes a course of study as in, I am proud to say that my daughter is a graduate of Yale University.
Graduate (pronounce graj-oo-it) School, a division of a college or university that offers courses to those already with bachelor degrees as in, Andy will be attending graduate school in the fall to obtain his master’s degree in Education.
Here’s an “all in one” sentence: After Kim graduates (pronounced graj-oo-ayts) from college, she will attend graduate (pronounced graj-oo-it) school to earn her master’s degree in Psychology.
Wound vs. Wound
Wound (pronounced woond) an injury as in, Jim had a big wound on his hand that required stitches.
Wound (pronounced wownd or wound) to wrap as in, Judy wound her injured foot with a bandage.
Wind vs. Wind
Wind (pronounced wind) a current of air as in, The wind howled on Halloween.
Wind (pronounced wīnd) to cause a twisting or spiral motion as in, You’d better wind the clock before it stops ticking; not a direct course as in, The roads wind through the hills.
Wind (pronounced wīnd) can also mean to blow (a wind instrument); to sound by blowing. The horizontal line above the ī in wind is called a macron (pronounced mey-kron or mak-ron). In this case, the ī in wind sounds like the pronoun I.
Lead vs. Lead
Lead (pronounced led) a grayish-colored metallic element; a thin piece of graphite forming the writing substances in pencils as in, For this exam, make sure to use a No. 2 soft lead pencil.
Lead (pronounced leed) to guide, usually by being in front of a person as in, Close your eyes and I will lead you to my secret hideout; to be ahead as in, The Dallas Cowboys are in the lead, meaning that they are winning the game.
Did you know that the symbol for lead (pronounced led) is Pb?
Bow vs. Bow
Bow (pronounced bou) bending of the head or body as a sign of agreement, respect, etc. as in, In a karate tournament, it is customary to see two people bow to each other before and after a sparring match; or In a karate tournament, it is customary for the martial artist to bow to the judges before and after he performs kata; the front of a ship is also called a bow (pronounced bou). See the “Mnemonics” section to help you remember that the bow refers to the front of a ship/boat.
Bow (pronounced boh) a piece of curved wood with strings attached to either end as in, The archer shot at the target with her bow and arrows, hitting the bulls-eye 85% of the time.
Did you know that a toxophilite (pronounced tok-sof-uh-lahyt) is an archer or devotee to archery?
Sow vs. Sow
Sow (pronounced soh) to scatter seed; to plant as in, The farmers are about to sow the corn seeds or It’s time to sow the seeds of learning.
Sow (pronounced sou) an adult female pig as in, It was funny to listen to the sow snort while eating. A young sow is called a Gilt as in, I enjoyed watching the sow and her gilt wallow in the mud.
Do not confuse Sow (pronounced soh—to plant) with So (pronounced soh—in the manner indicated) or with Sew (pronounced soh—to fasten together with thread).
Perfect vs. Perfect
Perfect (pronounced pur-fikt) faultless, having all the essential qualities as in, To be human is to err. Nobody is perfect.
Perfect (pronounced per-fekt) to make perfect as in, Steve likes to perfect things before presenting them to the public. Think of it in terms of refining your work until you are fully satisfied with it.
Slough vs. Slough
Slough (pronounced slou or sloo) a marsh as in, It’s not wise to build your house on a slough.
Slough (pronounced slou) state of hopeless depression as in, It was difficult to watch him gradually slip into a state of slough.
Slough (pronounced sluhf) to shed as in, A snake sloughs its skin.
Articulate vs. Articulate
Articulate (pronounced ahr-tik-yuh-lit) spoken clearly as in, He's an articulate speaker.
Articulate (ahr-tik-yuh-leyt) to utter distinctly as in, It is important to articulate when giving a speech.
Dove vs. Dove
Dove (pronounced duhv) a type of bird (of the family Columbidae) with a tiny head and thick body as in, Doves were released into the air as the newlyweds headed for their limousine.
Dove (pronounced dohv) past tense of dive as in, The swimmer dove into the pool.
Note: Dived is also the past tense of dive. Both dived and dove are acceptable, but some sources claim that in written English, it is better to use dived. The past participle of dive is always dived.
Do vs. Do
Do (pronounced doo) to complete an action as in, I will do the dishes later.
Do (pronounced doh) the name given to the first note of the musical scale as in, To accommodate the school’s ensemble, the composer transposed his composition into Do major.
Do not confuse Do (pronounced doh—the name given to the first note of a musical scale) with Doe (pronounced doh—a female deer, hare, or rabbit) or with Dough (pronounced doh—a mixture of flour, etc. and liquid to be baked as bread, etc.).
Hinder vs. Hinder
Hinder (pronounced hin-der) to delay one’s progress as in, I didn’t mean to hinder your performance during the game. I was only trying to help.
Hinder (pronounced hīn’dər) the back part of something as in, The hinder part of a dog, meaning the back part of a dog.
The horizontal bar above a vowel is called a macron (pronounced mey-kron or mak-ron)? This mark often indicates a long vowel sound. In this case, you pronounce the ī in hinder like the pronoun I.
Entrance vs. Entrance
Entrance (pronounced en-truh ns) a passage by which someone enters as in, Here is the entrance to the movie theatre.
Entrance (pronounced en-trans or en-trahns) to fill with strong delight as in, He became entranced with her brilliance and beauty.
Progress vs. Progress
Progress (pronounced prog-res) forward movement as in, His progress in math is remarkable.
Progress (pronounced proh-gres) to move forward, to advance as in, As the play progressed, I became sleepier and sleepier.
Invalid vs. Invalid
Invalid (pronounced in-val-id) not having legal force as in, This driver’s license is invalid. It expired last month; or I consider him a sophist because he always manages to produce plausible yet invalid arguments.
Invalid (pronounced in-vuh-lid) a person who is weakened by illness or injury as in, A mysterious illness has turned this once vibrant young woman into an invalid. Now she can hardly move or speak.
Putting vs. Putting
Putting (pronounced pooting) placing something in a designated spot as in, Putting a flower arrangement at everyone's dinner table was a nice touch..
Putting (pronounced puhting) gently striking a golf ball as in, The novice took golf lessons to improve his putting skills.
Minute vs. Minute
Minute (pronounced min-it) equal to one-sixtieth of an hour or 60 seconds as in, There are 60 seconds in one minute; a short time as in I’ll be over in a few minutes.
Minute (pronounced mahy-noot or mah-nyoot) very small as in, I held the minute creature in the palm of my hand; detailed and precise as in After the robbery, the police performed a minute inspection of the store. The “ahy” sounds like eye.
Close vs. Close
Close (pronounced klōs) near as in, The lightening came close to hitting the power lines; almost alike as in, Alligators and crocodiles bear a close resemblance to each other.
Close (pronounced klōz) to shut as in, Please close the door when you leave.
Do not confuse close (pronounced klōz—to shut) with clothes (pronounced klohz or klohth z—which are things worn over the body as in, In winter, I wear plenty of clothes to keep warm).
The horizontal mark above the ō in row is called a macron (pronounced mey-kron or mak-ron). This mark often indicates a long vowel sound, like Oh.
Dogged vs. Dogged
Dogged (pronounced dawgd or dogd) to follow closely as in, The inquisitive child dogged our every move. Dogged (pronounced daw-gid or dog-id) determined, unrelenting as in, The team’s dogged attitude was the main contributing factor in their amazing come-from-behind victory.
Tear vs. Tear
Tear (pronounced tair) to pull to pieces as in, Why did you tear that piece of paper? It had an important phone number written on it; to split apart as in, I had a hunch that I would tear my pants while playing flag football.
Tear (pronounced teer) a drop of salty water that flows from the eye as the result of emotion as in, Tears welled in his eyes as he watched his baby daughter take her first wobbly step.
Commune vs. Commune
Commune (pronounced kom-yoon) persons not of one family living together as in, It was popular in 60’s counterculture to move out of an individual dwelling and into a commune.
Commune (pronounced kuh-myoon) to communicate spiritually as in, To cope with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Tammy found it necessary to commune with nature on a regular basis.
Conduct vs. Conduct
Conduct (pronounced kon-duhkt) a person’s deportment as in, The platoon sergeant’s exemplary conduct under fire earned him a medal.
Conduct (pronounced kuh n-duhkt) to lead as in, The guide conducted a tour of the museum; or It was a thrill to see the child prodigy conduct the orchestra.
Crooked vs. Crooked
Crooked (pronounced krook-id) not straight, having curves as in, A person with scoliosis has a crooked spine; or After Tim broke his finger, it was crooked.
Crooked (pronounced krookt) to bend into the form of a crook. A crook is a hooked staff used by shepherds as in, The shepherd prodded the rowdy sheep with his crooked to keep them on course.
Mare vs. Mare
Mare (pronounced mair) a female horse as in, Often in a herd, the horses turn to the oldest mare for guidance in unfamiliar situations.
Mare (pronounced mahr-ey or mair-ee) a huge flat dark area on the moon as in, What was once thought to be a sea actually turned out to be a mare.
Did you know that mare’s nest (pronounced mairz nest) means disorderly? If you say, “The man’s office is a mare’s nest” you are saying that his office is unkempt. You can also use it in the following way: A mare’s nest of political intrigues and troubles. Mare’s nest can also mean a hoax or fraud as in, The video of Bigfoot walking through the woods was merely a mare’s nest.
Putter vs. Putter
Putter (pronounced poot-er) a person who pushes the wagons in a coalmine as in, The putter worked diligently to transport the coal.
Putter (pronounced puht-er) a club used in golf as in, The golfer used a putter to stroke the ball lightly into the hole; one who putts as in, Cameron is the most outstanding amateur putter I have ever seen.
Putter (pronounced puht-er) to occupy oneself inefficiently as in, Why are you watching TV when there is still work to be done? Last week you were caught sleeping on the couch. If you putter around the house anymore, you’ll be grounded for a week; or She likes to putter in the garden.
Sewer vs. Sewer
Sewer (pronounced soh-er) a person who sows as in, Tiffany is a magnificent sewer. Never before have I seen such an ornate array of pillows and quilts.
Sewer (pronounced soo-er) a drain for discarding waste as in, The construction of sewers has reduced the transmission of communicable diseases.
Did you know that a sewer (pronounced soo-er) was a medieval servant who oversaw the serving of meals?
Compact vs. Compact
Compact (pronounced kom-pakt) an agreement as in, The rumors of peace became reality when both nations signed a compact to end the violence.
Compact (pronounced kuh m-pakt) closely packed together as in, The compact cluster of flowers emitted a most pleasant fragrance; small compared to other things of the same type as in, We could hardly squeeze three people into the compact car.
Resume vs. Résumé
Resume (pronounced ri-zoom) to begin again as in, The game will resume once the trash is removed from the court.
Résumé (pronounced rez-oo-mey or rez-oo-mey) a concise account of ones qualifications and experiences as in, Her résumé indicates that she is fully qualified for the job; a summary as in, Here is a résumé of the facts of the case.
Did you know that the accent mark above both e's in resume is called accent aigu or acute accent?
Refuse vs. Refuse
Refuse (pronounced ri-fyooz) to decline something as in, Thank you, but I respectfully refuse your offer or I refuse to go along with your diabolical plan.
Refuse (pronounce ref-yoos) trash as in, After the rock concert, the volunteers started cleaning up the refuse.
“All in one” sentence: We refuse (pronounced ri-fyooz) to allow our parks to become cluttered with refuse (pronounced ref-yoos).
Viola vs. Viola
Viola (pronounced vee-oh-la) a stringed instrument of the violin family, slightly larger than a violin, with a deeper tone as in, The viola is an alto member of the violin family, approximately 1-3.5 inches longer than a violin and tuned a fifth lower.
Viola (pronounced vahy-uh-luh or vahy-oh-luh) a plant of the genus Viola to which violets and pansies belong as in, The Viola pedunculata, or Johnny-jump-up, so named because of the flower’s quick growth, has yellow flowers with purplish tinge, and prefers part shade and rich soil.
The “ahy” sounds like eye
Pace vs. Pace
Pace (pronounced peys) a single step made in walking as in, According to the map, you will locate the treasure if you take ten paces north from where you are standing.
Pace (pronounced pey-see or pah-chey) used to express polite disagreement as in, The Board of Directors approved the stock-split pace their Chairperson.
Address vs. Address
Address (pronounced uh-dres or ad-res) where one resides, a business location as in, One’s full address should include, the person's name, the house/building number, street name, city, state, and zip code.
Address (pronounced ə-drěs’ sounds like uh-dres) a speech given to an audience as in, The address given by the valedictorian was very eloquent.
Note: Unlike address (where one resides), address (a speech given to an audience) is pronounced only one way.
Excise vs. Excise
Excise (pronounced ek-sahyz) a tax levied on certain goods as in, The federal government instituted an excise tax on long-distance telephone calls.
Excise (pronounced ik-sahyz) to remove by cutting as in, The surgeons excised the tumor from his stomach or The producer excised one scene from the film.
Note: “ahy” sounds like eye.
Here are more heteronyms. Be sure to look them up and to note the differences in pronunciation.
Project vs. Project
Ally vs. Ally
Overage vs. Overage
Supposed vs. Supposed
Collect vs. Collect
Bass vs. Bass
House vs. House
Sew vs. Sew
Adept vs. Adept
Desert vs. Desert