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Examples of heteronyms


Two or more words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings. (But see David Rothwell's observation below.)

See also:


From the Greek, "other named"

Examples and Observations:

  • The noun sewer (a conduit for water or sewage) and the noun sewer (one who sews). The first noun (pronounced SOO-er) is derived from Latin, "related to water"; the second (pronounced SO-er) from the Sanskrit, "thread, string."

  • "A clown moped around when the circus refused
    For him a new moped to buy.
    The incense he burned did incense him to go
    On a tear with a tear in his eye."
    (Richard Lederer, "A Hymn to Heteronyms." The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book. Merriam-Webster, 1998)

  • "The Oxford Dictionary of English gives three definitions of heteronym . . .. My edition of the Shorter Oxford then confuses things even more. It begins with the less than helpful definition 'One or other of two heteronymous terms,' but then continues:

    • A word spelt like another but having a different sound and meaning;
    • A name of a thing in one language which is a translation of the same in another language.
    Insofar as one can make any sense of the varied Oxford definitions of 'heteronym,' it would seem to be an exact synonym for 'homonym.' As such, it is completely unnecessary, and you should forget about its existence immediately."
    (David Rothwell, Dictionary of Homonyms. Wordsworth, 2007)

  • "Though the invalid looked pallid,
    Said her lover:
    'Not to worry.
    Pessimism is invalid."
    (Felicia Lamport and George Cooper, "There's a Sewer in the Sewer: A Primer for Heteronymphiles," 2000)

  • "Heteronyms must incense foreign learners! I can't imagine a number feeling than if they spent hours learning a common English word, a minute little word, then found a second meaning and pronunciation! Surely agape could not be a foreigner's emotion as he or she becomes frustrated with our supply textured English words, which, we must admit, can be garbage and refuse to be defined."
    (David Bergeron, "Heteronyms." English Today, Oct. 1990)
Pronunciation: HET-er-o-nims
Also Known As: heterograph
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