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Common English Heteronyms and Homographs

Common English Heteronyms and Homographs

The English language is full of words with identical or similar spellings or pronunciations but different meanings. The following sections explain the differences between some common English heteronyms and homographs.

Common English Heteronyms

Heteronyms are words with identical spellings but different pronunciations and meanings. Many heteronyms are related in meaning or origin.

abuse – verb – to use or treat improperly
abuse – noun – improper use or treatment

If your coworkers abuse you, report the abuse to your supervisor.

close – adjective – nearby
close – verb – to shut

The man was not close enough to close the window.

desert – noun – a barren area of land with little to no precipitation
desert – verb – to abandon

The troops deserted the army after being left in the desert for weeks.

house – noun – a dwelling place, a residential building
house – verb – to place in residence

We house our lawnmower inside our house.

lead – verb – to guide
lead – noun – a type of metal

The guide will lead you to your lead mine.

minute – noun – a unit of time equal to sixty seconds
minute – adjective – small

Give me a minute piece of cake in a minute.

number – noun – a numeral
number – adjective – more numb, comparative form of numb

If your hand feels any number, call this number.

present – noun – a gift
present – verb – to give, to reveal

The committee will present a present to the faculty.

produce – verb – to make, to create
produce – noun – fruits and vegetables

Local farmers produce much of the produce in my town.

tear – noun – liquid produce by crying
tear – verb – to separate, to rip
tear – noun – a rip

A single tear welled up in my eye because of the tear in my new dress.

wind – noun – movement of the air
wind – verb – to tighten, to coil

Wind up the hose to protect it from the wind.

Common English Homographs

Homographs are words with identical spellings but different meanings.

bow – noun – a type of tied ribbon or string
bow – noun – a weapon used to shoot arrows

The hunter broke his bow while tying a bow in his shoelace.

by – preposition – next to, close to, near
buy – verb – to purchase

The celebrity will buy the house by the lake.

dumb – adjective – stupid, idiotic, lacking intelligence
dumb – adjective – unable to speak

Through his writing, the dumb man proved the he is not dumb.

rose – noun – a type of flower
rose – verb – simple past tense form of to rise

The man rose early to pick a rose.

well – adverb – good, healthy, okay
well – noun – spring, fountain, source of water

I fell well after digging the well by hand.

will – modal verb
will – verb – to want, to wish, to desire
will – noun – a legal document

Your mother will will you to write a will.

By learning the differences in pronunciation and meaning of the most common heteronyms and homographs in the English language, speakers can avoid making embarrassing mistakes.

References

The Heteronym Page: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/heteronym.html
List of Words Which Have the Same Pronunciation and Spelling but Different Meaning: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/List_of_words_which_have_the_same_pronunciation_and_spelling

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