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.
I live for the day I get to watch a live taping of The Price is Right.
I wrote the lead paragraph using a lead pencil.
Here are two additional examples and I’m sure there are plenty more:
1. Excuse John while he thinks of a reasonable excuse.
2. The guard will permit you to come in if you show a valid permit.
The people desert
the desert because it is very hot
Please excuse while I think of an excuse, I really would like to know where you get the idea for you blog posts.
Inspiration from blogs come from lots of places: books, articles, movies, etc. This particular one came from an unusual phrase I read which contained a heteronym.
oops didn’t notice that Bill already did the excuse excuse one, so … I hear that the bass are biting if you sing bass notes.
I didn’t know whether I could trust the trust to look after the children’s money.
Did you remember to time me this time?
While waiting for the vet, she pet her pet.
He moped around all day when his mom said he couldn’t ride his friend’s moped.
There’s a solid Wikipedia heteronym (synonymous with heterophone) page, worth referencing. And, like many things in the English language, heteronyms have been studied as the subject of PhD dissertations. Many online living resources exist to learn about, collect, and list pairs (and triples) of heteronnyms since the early days of the public Internet. Google “heteronym lists” and you can lose a day just reading through these. Great topic, Jonathan.
The invalid filed a complaint about the staff, but an investigation concluded that it was invalid.
I was lost looking for my lost soul…..
In just a minute, I’ll add a minute amount of sodium to the mixture.
Speaking about heteronyms, I recently found the following funny “meme” on Twitter:
-Will Will Smith smith?
-Yes, Will Smith will smith
Please have you any dissertation about heteronomy?
dissertation About Heteronyms. How can find any dissertation samples about it?
We recently wrote an article on Heteronyms on our blog. Do check it out. Hope you like it.
— Livgently Team
I’ve already read this book so why can’t I read that one?
Has not anyone yet noted that ‘heteronym’ is itself a heteronym?
“One of Pessoa’s heteronyms was known in town for his prolific use of heteronyms in conversation.”
Not true of course, but I hope I make my point.
He was putting in a lot of practice time on his putting stroke.
There are others in golf. How about — The golfer yelled Fore as a warning for others
They had to vet the Vietnam vet before he was allowed into vet school.