What is a Heteronym

What is a Heteronym

Heteronyms, also known as heterophones are words that have the same spellings but share different pronunciations and different meanings.  Heteronyms belong to the category of homographs. All heteronyms are homographs, but not all homographs are heteronyms. A homograph refers to two or more words that contain the same spellings and different meanings. Homographs contain words that share the same pronunciation as well as words that don’t. Therefore, a heteronym can be defined as homographs that share the same pronunciations.  It is also important to notice that heteronym pronunciation can vary in stress patterns, vowel realization, etc.

Related Terms

Many people confuse the three terms heteronym, homonym, homophone and homograph because they all sound similar. Therefore, let us first look at the different definitions of these words clearly

Heteronyms are words that have the same spellings, but different pronunciation and meaning.

Homographs are words that have the same spellings, but different meaning, origin or/ and pronunciation.

Homonyms are words that have the same pronunciation or spelling, but different meanings.

Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling.

If you observe these definitions carefully, you’ll note that there is a close relationship between these word categories. For example, heteronyms are a subcategory of homographs whereas homophones are the opposite of heteronyms. You can understand this interrelationship better by observing the chart below.What is a Homonym

Examples of Heteronyms


Meaning 1

Pronunciation 1

Example 1

Meaning 2

Pronunciation 2

Example 2




Lead is a heavy metal.



The leader is supposed to lead the class.


present tense of read


He likes to read novels.

past tense of read


He read a novel yesterday.


Drops of liquid produced from the eyes.


She wiped her tears.

pull something apart


I saw him tear the letter into pieces.




He was born in August 1955.

respected and impressive


He was in august company.


open wide


He listened, with his mouth agape.

altruistic, beneficial love

/ ˈaɡəpi/

There is a distinction between eros and agape.




Our school is close to the sea.



Can you close the door, please?




He fed the dove.

past of dive


He dove into the sea.


disabled person


They treat me as if I’m an invalid.



The example you have used is invalid.


sixty seconds


Give me a minute.

extremely small


He has a minute chance of winning.


to start again


She wants to resume her career.

curriculum vitae


He promised to look at my resume.

Heteronym – Summary

  • Heteronyms are words that have the same spellings, but different pronunciation and meaning.
  • The difference in pronunciation might include stress patterns, vowel realization, etc.
  • Heteronyms are also homographs.

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