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:


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

Walking in the desert


  • 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
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

A dove


  • 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.
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

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


  • 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.


  • 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.
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

Nail polish and shoe polish


  • 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?


  • 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.


  • 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
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

Torn wrapping paper


  • 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.
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

It’s a windy day!


  • 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.
Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

He wound the bandage around my leg.

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Common English Heteronyms Espresso English

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