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Heteronyms: Same Spelling but Different Pronunciation?

Heteronyms are words that have the same spelling but different pronunciation.
For instance ‘live’
‘we live in Scotland’ but ‘it was a live concert’.
And how about ‘resume’
‘I sent them my resume’ vs ‘please return to your seats, the concert will resume in 2 minutes’.

Sometimes it’s straightforward but sometimes it’s a little more confusing… (Like the word ‘polish’)

Want to hear more? In this episode, you’ll find a bunch of them:


Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 20.

Hello-hello. Welcome back. Today is part two of the lesson about ‘spelling versus pronunciation’ and why do they constantly clash.

Last time, that was episode number 18, we talked about words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently, like ‘flower’ and ‘flour’, and ‘see’ and ‘sea’, and ‘sun’ and ‘son’.

I hope you, cause you can’t see the word written, I hope you visualize the different spelling patterns: ‘sun’ and ‘son’, like “The sun in the sky”, and “My son. I don’t have a son, I only have daughters”. But, I hope that helped you understand what word I meant. Anyway, this was episode number 18 on the podcast.

Today we are talking about words that are spelled the same, but get this – they’re pronounced differently. Yeah. Spelled the same but pronounced differently. So technically, these words, if you just see them written, you can’t know for certain how to pronounce them because it requires context.

So you’ll know if this word is a ‘read’ or ‘read’, right? Cause there are pronounced the same. Or if this word is ‘Object’ or ‘objEct’. “I objEct the fact that spelling and pronunciation do not correspond in English. It makes everything a lot harder.”

But if English was a phonetic language, or should I say were a phonetic language, I still didn’t get that quite right. I think I can use both, but technically, I’m supposed to say ‘were’ because it’s not something realistic. However, a lot of people use ‘was’.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “What is she talking about? How is this related?” But for those of you who got me, I know you know what I mean? So technically, there is no ‘was’ after ‘if’, if it’s hypothetical – “if English were a phonetic language”, “if I were a rich man”. I will make a different episode about this, okay. I will record a different episode about ‘was’ and ‘were’ after ‘if’.

For now, let’s move on to what I wanted to say in the first place. That if English was/were a phonetic language, then I’d have no job. So maybe it’s good because that’s how we can connect. If everything was easy, then I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say about that.

So I’m glad it’s not easy. Not helpful for you, but it’s helpful for our relationship, I think. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Okay Hadar, can I just listen to the lesson, please?” And the answer is ‘yes’. Yes, you can. Yes, you can.

Let’s listen to the audio version of my video lesson about words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently.

And by the way, they’re called heteronyms or homographs, just so you know. Let’s listen.

Hey, it’s Hadar. Thank you for joining me. Today is the second part of the video series about spelling versus pronunciation, trying to tackle common confusions. In the previous lesson we talked about homophones – words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. So we went through bunch of pairs, and if you want to watch that video, if you haven’t watched it, I’m going to link to it in the show notes.

In today’s lesson, we are going to talk about heteronyms – words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. The first one is this – ‘tear’ ‘tear’ as in “Don’t shed any tears” – right, – “when you cry”. “Tears are running down your cheeks”. ‘Tear’. Here it’s pronounced with a T sound, than a high E – ‘tee’, and then an R sound – ‘teer’. Make sure that ‘ee’ is long – ‘teer’.

But this could also mean to tear. ‘Tear’, to ruin, like “to tear something down” or “to tear up the page”. ‘tehr’. And then it’s pronounced with an ‘a’ sound. “Tear” – it’s a T sound, and ‘a’, so drop your jaw and bring the tongue up for the R only at the end. “Tear”.

The next one is “read”: an R sound, an a high E – ‘ree-‘, and then a D – ‘reed’. “I need to read this book” – ‘reed’. Or “I read this book”, the past form – ‘red’. Then it’s just an ‘e’ sound – ‘red’.

I know it’s confusing and you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is that? Why can’t they spell it differently? Let’s say, just with an ‘ea’, right, like the color “red”. Well, probably once upon a time the ‘EA’ spelling pattern used to always have the same pronunciation, the same sound.

But with time English evolved and sounds have changed and morphed, and this is why we have such a distinction or such a differentiation between the spelling and the pronunciation. Okay.

So probably, it’s because it has changed. The ‘ea’, for example, as in “read” and “read”, can also be ‘ei’ as in break, right. This is why English can be confusing. Hashtag English is confusing.

Because the same spelling pattern can be several different vowels. The most important thing is that you remember it ‘as is’, and try to detach yourself from the spelling. Try to really identify the sound of the word with the context.

Because when you hear people talking about the past, “I read this book”, it’s obvious, right? It’s not confusing whatsoever. The ‘e’ sound is an easy sound to detect, and also the ‘ee’. “I need to read this book”, right?

So try to associate the sound with the actual word and the meaning, and the tense, rather than try to identify it according to the spelling. And if you’re reading something, then see how it relates to the rest of the sentence. This is how you know. It’s easier than you think.

Then we have [Live]. This could be ‘laiv’ as in “It’s a live show”. Then it’s the ‘ai’ as in “my” – ‘laiv’. Or ‘liv’, as in “Where do you live?” ‘liv’, then it’s a relaxed ‘i’ sound – ‘liv’.

The next one is this [Polish]. This could be ‘pow-lish’, as in someone from Poland. Then we want to make sure that the O always pronounced with a long ‘ow’ sound – ‘pow-lish’. The trick is to add the W – ‘pow’, ‘pow-lish’. Or ‘paa-lish’, “I need to polish the glasses before I pour wine into them”. ‘paa-lish’. You could tell I was a bartender once, right?

This one is rather confusing [Resume]. So, it’s either “to ‘ruh-zuwm’ the classes”, right. “I stopped taking English classes, but I need to resume my studies, or resume classes – to start again”. ‘ruh-zuwm’. It’s an R sound, then a Z, and then the U as in “food” – ‘ruh-zuwm’, close it with an M.

Or it’s ‘re-zuh-mei’ ‘re-zuh-mei’, so different! ‘re-zuh-mei’. “I need to submit my resume, if I want to get a job there”. ‘re-zuh-mei’. Or “I need to work on my resume”.

‘re-zuh-mei’. ‘re’ as in “red”, so round your lips for the R, ‘zuh’ – it’s a Z sound and a schwa – ‘re-zuh’. And it’s confusing cause it’s spelled with an S, I know, but it’s pronounced as a Z. ‘re-zuh-mei’, ‘mei’, ‘ei’ as in “day”, ‘mei’. ‘re-zuh-mei’, ‘re-zuh-mei’.

The next one is this [Use]. This has two meanings. One, “to use” – then it’s spelled with a Z sound – ‘uwz’. Or it’s the noun – ‘uws’. “What’s the use?” ‘uwz’ versus ‘uws’.

Now, this S that is once pronounced with an S, once pronounced with a Z, can also be found in the pair “close” versus “close”. Spelled the same, pronounced differently. “Close the door”, with a Z ‘klowz’.

Or “Come sit close to me”. “We’re sitting close to each other”. ‘klows’, long O, as in “go”, and then an S. The only difference here is the S versus Z: ‘klows’ – ‘klowz’, ‘uws’ – ‘uwz’.

The next set of words are verbs versus nouns that are spelled the same. For example, this word [Present]. ‘preh-z’nt’ versus ‘pruh-zent’. So here you have a trick. When you see the same word and you know that it can be used as a verb, to do something or as a noun, the secret is in the stress.

‘PREH-z’nt’. If the stress is on the first syllable, it’s a noun. “I want to give you a PREsent. ‘preh-z’nt’. If it’s a verb, the stress is going to be on the second syllable – ‘pruh-ZENT’.

And that is always the case with words that have two syllables and they are spelled the same, and you know that they have two different meanings: one is a verb, one is a noun. ‘pruh-ZENT’. “I need to preSENT my idea”. ‘pruh-zent – ‘preh-z’nt’.

Now, the stress shift also changes the vowels, the pronunciation of the other vowels. Because once you put the stress on one syllable, the other syllable receives a schwa – the vowel is reduced. ‘preh-z’nt’ , ‘z’nt’, then there is no vowel here. It’s ‘uh’ – ‘z’nt’.

But then if I shift the stress to the second syllable, the second syllable gets the vowel ‘zent’, the first syllable – ‘pruh’. ‘pruh-zent’. So it’s not ‘pre-zent’ and ‘pre-zent’. Then it’s not clear what is stressed and what is not stressed, right? ‘PREH-z’nt’ – ‘pruh-ZENT’.

Record [‘reh-k’rd’]. “Let’s play that record”, ‘reh-k’rd’. Or ‘ruh-kord’ – “I need to record an album”. ‘reh-k’rd’: here the ‘reh’ is the primary stress, as in “red”, ‘k’rd. Or “It’s a world record”, right? Same pronunciation, ‘reh-k’rd’.

Or “I need to record it”. ‘ruh’, then it’s a schwa, ‘kord’. All of a sudden, it’s an O sound as in “for”. ‘ruh-kord’, right. In ‘reh-k’rd’ it was a schwa, you couldn’t hear an O sound. But here, ‘ruh-kord’. See how it works? Let’s look at a few more.

Desert [‘de-z’rt’] – “Let’s go to the desert”. “The desert is so beautiful in the winter”. ‘de-z’rt’, stress is on the first syllable. And ‘duh-z’rt’. The first one is ‘DEsert’ as, “Let’s go to the desert”, ‘de-z’rt’. The second one is ‘deSERT’, “Don’t desert that project again”, ‘duh-z’rt’ – to stop doing something, to leave it abruptly. ‘duh-z’rt’.

“Desert” is also a homophone of “Dessert”, spelled differently. Notice: dessert, which is what you have at the end of a meal. “Dessert”. Or in the beginning, if you’re my daughters ?. “Dessert”. “Dessert”. Okay.

So again, we have ‘DE-z’rt’ – stress on the first syllable, ‘DE-z’rt’. That’s the place. And then ‘duh-Z’RT’ – stress on the second syllable – is the verb “to desert”, “Don’t desert me”. ‘duh-Z’RT’.

But it’s also what you eat at the end of a meal – “dessert”. So, “desert”, the verb, and “dessert”, the noun – are homophones cause they’re spelled differently but pronounced the same. Confusing? I hope not anymore.

The last one is “produce” versus “produce”. “PROduce” versus “proDUCE”. To produce [‘pruh-duws’] is to make something out of raw materials,  ‘pruh-duws’. Or to make something out of nothing: “I need to produce a sound or produce a video”.

‘pruh-duws’. So, the first syllable is a schwa – ‘pruh’, second syllable is stressed – ‘duws’. That’s the primary stress with a U as in “food” – ‘pruh-duws’.

‘prow-duws’ are things that have grown or produced, especially in a farm, like carrots and apples, and lettuce. ‘prow-duws’. Here we say it with the ‘ow’ sound – that’s the primary stress – ‘prow-duws’, U as in “food”. ‘prow-duws’. ‘pruh-duws’ – ‘prow-duws’.

Okay, that’s it. Now I want to challenge you. Write in the comments below more words that share the same spelling, but have different meanings and different pronunciation. Okay?

So, I can’t wait to hear your comments, and if you haven’t seen it yet, go watch the first part of this video about words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same. I’m sure you’re going to find it very, very interesting.

If you liked this video, please share it with your friends and click “Like”. And if you haven’t yet, please subscribe either to my channel or you can subscribe to my newsletter to get the videos into your inbox every single week. You’ll also get my podcast episodes straight to your inbox.

So, have a beautiful week, and I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
20. Same Spelling but Different Pronunciation? ?

And here are the specific times for each word:
0:33 tear
1:17 read
3:16 live
3:34 Polish
4:00 resume
4:59 use
5:16 close
5:53 present
7:18 record
7:58 desert
9:14 produce

Once you’re done watching the video, let me know which were the trickiest for you?

And if you haven’t watched the previous episode of the series, come here to learn about homophones. Words that are spelled differently but sound exactly the same! #EnglishIsConfusing

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5 Responses

  1. I get ones like tear, read, lead or for that matter, wind, wound, bow. I don’t count ones that are just the noun vs. verb form of the same word: record, produce, where the different is really just in syllabic emphasis. That is a pretty standard thing in English.

  2. Concert (con-sert)as in a a place where artists perform
    or concert (kun-sert) as in arrange by mutual agreement.

  3. It’s a noun. Crutches have a use, which is to provide walking support when you use them.

    Pronounced ‘yoose’ instead of ‘yooz’

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