The local dump was so overflowing that it had to refuse refuse.
If you’re like most people, that sentence looks wrong. After all, it has the same word repeated twice in a row. Most of us assume it can’t be proper grammar.
While it’s true that repeated words usually are bad grammar, in this case there are two different words spelled identically. Read the sentence again: the first refuse is a verb meaning deny while the second is a noun meaning trash.
Heteronyms are words spelled identically but with different meanings and pronunciations. There are lots of heteronyms in the English language. Since they have different pronunciation, you wouldn’t notice them in everyday speech.
Things are a bit trickier in writing – especially if English isn’t your first language. But usually there’s enough context to figure out the right pronunciation and meaning. Here are ten examples:
- I wound a bandage around my wound.
- The chair was so close to the door we couldn’t close it.
- Don’t just give the gift; present the present.
- The Polish man decided to polish his table.
- When he wrecked his moped, he moped all day.
- She shed a tear because she had a tear in her shirt.
- Farmers reap what they sow to feed it to the sow.
- How much produce does the farm produce?
- More people desert in the desert than in the mountains.
- The researcher wanted to subject the subject to a psychology test.
Did any of these sentences trip you up?
If people add more examples of heteronyms in the comments, I will be more content with the content of this blog.