Heteronyms

Heteronyms (Homographs) are words that are spelled the same but when pronounced differently, they mean different things.

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This website dedicate to the fun world and strange world of heteronyms. It is the most complete and accurate listing of US English heteronyms that we are aware of.  Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but when pronounced differently, they mean different things. For example “minute” can mean 60 seconds or very small depending upon how you pronounce it.

Welcome to the world of words that sound the same but mean different things, means the same but spelled and sound different, sound different but look the same, and …. Oh well, it is so confusing, let me show you with the table below.
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Heteronyms

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Siepmann Classification System (SCS)


 

SCS Symbol Sound Spelling Meaning Examples
homophone P same different different knight/night,  two/to/too,  see/sea,  do/due
homograph
(heteronym)
G different same different does: multiple female deer/to perform

lead: to guide/a soft metal (elemental symbol Pb)

synonym S different different same mean/cruel,  bad/awful,  smart/intelligent

homophonic
homograph
(homonym)

PG same same different

bank:  place where money is kept/embankment

liver:  one who lives/an organ in the body

light:  a beam of photons/not weighing much

homophonic synonym PS same different same gray/grey,  night/nite,  light/lite

homographic
synonym

GS different same same

tomato: tuh-mey-toh, tuh-mah-toh (pronunciations)

route: rout, root (pronunciations)

(Just different pronunciations of the same word.)


 

Note:  While the commonly used names are listed in parentheses above, they have no role in the Siepmann Classification System (as described below) because:  they are inadequate for classification purposes, have varied definitions (due to the previous reason), and are often used incorrectly (due to the previous reason).

The classification presented here is logically derived and does not have the ambiguity of the current system (actually a lack thereof). The SCS is derived from the following rules: 
1. Homophone/-ic is used if the words have the same sound. It is derived from the prefix homomeaning "the same" and the suffix -phone which means "sound" and thus refers to words that sound the same.
2. homograph/-ic is used if the words have the same spelling. It is derived from the prefix homomeaning "the same" and the suffix -graph which means "to write" and thus refers to words that are written (spelled) the same.
3. synonym is used if the words have the same meaning. Derived from the prefix syn- meaning "same sense" and the -onym which means "name" and thus refers to words that have the same sense (meaning).
4. Only that which is referenced in the name as being the same are, the rest is assumed to be different.
5. The use of the descriptive words are in the order presented. For instance, because homophone is located above homograph in the SCS table, homophonic homograph is used instead of homographic homophone.

Some have used classification systems using the prefix dys- and syn- like "dysphonic homograph" for heteronym but they do not logically hold up whereas my system does. But for the purposes of this website, I'll use the more common term heteronym but at least we will now all know what it means and that homograph is technically the more correct terminology.

Now for those of you who are mathematically inclined and noticed that there are 2 more possible combinations of the above table, you are right. But they do not count because words that are same/same/same are just the same word, and words that are different/different/different are likewise just different words.

My name is Dr. James P. Siepmann and I got interested in how these unusual set of words we call heteronyms came into being and it was like a puzzle trying to find all of the heteronyms. Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but when they are pronounced differently, they mean different things. Words like bass which when pronounced with a short “a” it is a type of fish, but when it is pronounced with a long “a” it means a musical instrument or the low tones of music. Our language has words from different sources (roots) and some of these words just happened to be spelled the same though different in meaning and sound, this is how most of the heteronyms came into being. My family then got into the act and we tried to find all of these type of words in the English language. It became a game and our listing of heteronyms is the most complete that I am aware of and the most technically correct (i.e., no proper nouns). 

Homophonic synonyms are words like night and nite and because we are using US English and no proper nouns, words like meter and metre don’t count. The plurals of the meanings when possible are not included as they are obvious. I haven’t pursued these words much and the only ones that I have found are gray/grey, light/lite, and night/nite. Perhaps it is because they are so few that they haven’t been afforded a single word category like the others. But because there are so few, I would appreciate any that you can submit (
mail@Heteronyms.com). 

The other categories of words just aren’t as interesting. Synonyms are obvious and many, homonyms are words like pray and prey (they just sound the same). Homonyms are just different meanings for the same word, like “left” (e.g. my left hand, I left you there). 

Check out the list below. You may find them interesting or at least you can show off to others your extensive knowledge of the English language: 

The Siepmann Heteronym List

Though some would include proper nouns (e.g. August, Polish), it is not correct to do so. Plurals are not included unless it has a new heteronym companion. Rarely there are more than two different pronunciations, each with their own meaning, such as the word “mow”. I also left the pronunciations out on purpose to make you think a little.

affect:  to change/a person’s emotions
alternate:  to switch back and forth/the second choice
are:  plural of to be/ 100 square meters
attribute:  a characteristic/to give regard to
bass:  a type of a fish/the low tones of music or an stringed instrument which plays low tones
bow:  a device to shoot an arrow or something tied in a figure 8 pattern/to bend one’s head down or the front of a ship
bowed:  bent/to bend over
buffet:  a blow or be affected by blows/a large sideboard or a self-served meal of various dishes
close:  to be near/to shut
combine:  a farming machine which threshes/to put together
conduct:  one’s behavior/to lead (oops there is another one) such as a symphony
console:  to comfort/the interface for an instrument
content:  to be satisfied/that which is contained within
contest:  to compete in a match of skills/make an argument against something
contract:  an agreement/to shrink or make a deal on a project
convert:  to change one’s belief system/one whose belief system has been changed
converse:  to talk/the opposite
convict:  a prisoner/to find one guilty of a charge
crooked:  sharply curved/a muscle spasm in one’s neck
deliberate:  to carefully consider/to purposely do
desert:  to abandon/an arid or barren area
digest:  to convert food to simpler compounds/to condense a written work
do:  the first tone of the diatonic scale/to accomplish
does:  multiple female deer/to perform
dove:  a bird/to have jumped off
drawer:  one who draws/a boxlike compartment that pushes in and pulls out
drawers:  multiple people who draw/underpants
entrance:  an entryway/to put into a trance
excuse:  to pardon or forgive/an explanation offered to justify or obtain forgiveness
gyro:  short for gyroscope/a type of sandwich with roasted lamb
house:  a dwelling/to provide living quarters
incense:  a burnt aromatic/to make angry
intern:  a physician training after medical school/to confine
intimate:  personal/to hint
invalid:  an ill person/ not valid
laminate:  to make in layers/a composite made of layers
lather:  to make foam/a workman who puts up laths
lead:  to guide/a soft dense metal
live: verb meaning to have life/adjective meaning to have life or being on
lives:  verb meaning to have life/plural noun meaning many with life
micrometer:  one-millionth of a meter/a device used to measure small distances
minute:  small/sixty seconds
moderate:  of medium or average quality/to preside or direct
mow:  to cut down/a type of a gull/a stack of hay
multiply:  to times two numbers/to do in many ways
number:  a mathematical integer like 1, 2, 3,…/to deprive of further feeling
nun:  a female religious/the 14th letter of the Hebrew alphabet
object:  something perceptible/to dissent
pasty:  medium consistency/a meat pie
pate:  a meat paste/the crown of a head, usually bald/a porcelain paste
perfect:  to make correct/that which is correct
periodic:  occasional or repetitive/an iodine compound
permit:  to allow something to be done/a document giving permission
present:  a gift or that which is happening now/to give a talk or demonstration
primer:  a elementary book/the undercoating done prior to applying paint
produce:  vegetables/to bring forth
project:  to thrust outward/a plan or housing development
pussy:  to be filled with pus/a kitten
putting:  to hit a golf ball on a green/to place in a specific location
raven:  to devour/a large black bird
rebel:  to resist/one who resists
record:  to write down/a list or phonograph disk
recreation:  a leisurely pastime/to remake
refuse:  to deny/garbage
relay:  a race involving multiple individuals/to lay again
reside:  to live in a place/to change a side
resign:  to quit/to sign again
resume:  to restart/a CV or document of experience
row:  a series of objects in a straight line/a fight
sake:  purpose/a Japanese rice drink
secrete:  to generate/to conceal
secreted:  to have generated/to hide out of sight
separate:  to divide up into groups/disunited or a garment
sewer:  one who sews/a conduit for transporting sewage
slough:  a swamp/to shed
sow:  to scatter seeds/an adult female hog
subject:  the theme or topic/to force one’s will onto another
tear:  liquid drops secreted by the eye/to pull apart
wind:  to encircle/moving air
wound:  to have been wrapped in a circular manner/an injury