The Grammarphobia Blog

Heteronyms and homophones

Q: What do you call words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and pronunciations? I’m thinking of words like “tear” (as in rip) and “tear” (as in crying) or “dove” (the bird) and “dove” (did a belly flop). Any thoughts?

A: Words with the same spellings but different pronunciations and meanings are called heteronyms: like “desert” (to abandon) and “desert” (the Sahara) or “wind” (breeze) and “wind” (to twist).

Homophones are words that sound the same but differ in meaning. They can be spelled differently (like “night” and “knight”) or the same (like the “bark” of a dog and the “bark” of a tree)..

Isn’t English fascinating?

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