Common English Heteronyms


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Heteronyms in English are two words with the same spelling, but different pronunciations and different meanings.

Two common examples are the words close and live:

  • close (adj.) with an “s” sound = near, not far
    My house is close to the bus station.
  • close (v.) with a “z” sound = shut, opposite of open
    Please close the door when you leave.
  • live (v.) with the same “i” as in “sit” = reside
    I live in an apartment in the city center.
  • live (adj.) with the same “i” as in “I” (me) = happening at that moment, in that place
    I was interviewed on live TV.
    There’s live music at the restaurant

Here are 15 interesting heteronyms in English:

alternate

  • AL – ter – net (n.) – an alternative, the next option
    We have an alternate plan if this one doesn’t work.
  • AL – ter – nate (v.) – switch back and forth between two things
    I alternated between hope and despair.

attribute

  • AT – tri – bute (n.) – a characteristic of something
    His intelligence is one of his best attributes.
  • at – TRI – bute (v.) – give credit for something
    This famous saying is attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

content

  • CON – tent (n.) – information or objects that are contained in something else
    The security officer inspected the contents of my suitcase.
  • con – TENT (adj.) – satisfied, happy
    I was content with the grade I got on the test.

deliberate

  • de – LIB – rit (adj.) – done with intention and awareness, on purpose (opposite of accidentally)
    His comment wasn’t a mistake; it was a deliberate insult.
  • de – LIB – er – ate (v.) – discuss, debate
    The managers deliberated for an hour about how to solve the problem.

desert

  • DE – sert (n.) – a very dry area of land
    It’s hard to find water in the desert.
  • de – SERT (v.) – abandon, leave without coming back
    My father deserted our family when I was only 6.
Walking in the desert

Walking in the desert

dove

  • duv (n.) – a type of bird
    I could hear the doves singing outside my window.
  • dove (v.) – past tense of “dive”
    She dove into the swimming pool
A dove

A dove

lead

  • leed (v.) – direct, show the way, be the leader
    The teacher will lead the students on an excursion.
  • led (n.) – a type of metal
    These bullets are made of lead.
Lead can be used to protect against radiation. It is poisonous if ingested.

Lead can be used to protect against radiation. It is poisonous if ingested.

minute

  • MIN – it (n.) – a period of time, 60 seconds
    Can I call you back in ten minutes?
  • my – NUTE (adj.) – extremely small
    This isn’t an exact replica; there are some minute differences.

moderate

  • MOD – er – et (adj.) – in the middle, not extreme
    I’m looking for a hotel with a moderate price – not too expensive, not too cheap.
  • MOD – e – rate (v.) – to make less extreme, OR to supervise/preside over
    The boss moderated a few of her strongly negative comments so as not to hurt the employee’s feelings.
    The TV producer moderated the panel discussion among scholars of different perspectives.

polish / Polish

  • PAH – lish (n. / v.) – to make shiny, or the substance used to make something shiny
    I polished the silver teakettle.
    There’s a can of furniture polish in the basement.
  • POH – lish (adj.) – from Poland
    My grandparents are Polish; they immigrated to the U.S. in 1950.
Nail polish and shoe polish

Nail polish and shoe polish

refuse

  • re – FYOOZ (v.) – to say no, to reject
    He refused to discuss the topic, saying it was none of my business.
  • RE – fyoos (n.) – garbage, waste
    Did you know that most households generate 500 pounds of refuse per year?

separate

  • SEP – ret (adj.) – apart, distinct
    There are separate bathrooms for men and women.
  • SEP – a – rate (v.) – action of setting things apart.
    You should separate the white clothes from the colored clothes before washing them.

tear

  • TEER (n.) – the drops of liquid that come out of your eyes when you cry
    A single teartrickled down his face.
  • TARE (v.) – pull into pieces by force; rip (past tense = tore)
    She tore the wrapping paper off the Christmas present
Torn wrapping paper

Torn wrapping paper

wind

  • WIND (n. – “i” as in “sit”) – moving air
    My dog likes to put his head out the car window to feel the wind.
  • WAIND (v. – “i” as in “I”) – wrap something around something else
    The doctor started to wind the bandage around my arm.
It's a windy day!

It’s a windy day!

wound

  • WOWND (v.) – past tense of “wind” – wrapped something around something else
    The doctor wound another bandage around my leg.
  • WOOND (n.) – injury, especially one in which the skin is broken.
    He sustained serious wounds in the explosion.
He wound the bandage around my leg.

He wound the bandage around my leg.

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