Looks Can Be Deceiving: 10 Sentences with Heteronyms

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.

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38 Responses to Looks Can Be Deceiving: 10 Sentences with Heteronyms

  1. Lauren Maser August 23, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    I live for the day I get to watch a live taping of The Price is Right.

    • Meesha alba January 25, 2024 at 5:25 pm #

      This is the one that gets me the most!

  2. Jane Howell August 23, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    I wrote the lead paragraph using a lead pencil.

  3. Bill Rojas August 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    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.

    • rinalyn June 26, 2019 at 4:53 am #

      The people desert
      the desert because it is very hot

  4. Ron Wessels August 23, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    Please excuse while I think of an excuse, I really would like to know where you get the idea for you blog posts.

    • Jonathan Becher August 24, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      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.

  5. Ron Wessels August 23, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    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.

  6. stevejex August 24, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    I didn’t know whether I could trust the trust to look after the children’s money.

    • Jimmy T December 30, 2023 at 6:35 am #

      I don’t think this is an example of a heteronym because “trust” is pronounced the same way. Same could be said about your other example of “time.” “Read” is another example of a heteronym with present tense “reed” and past tense “red.”

  7. stevejex August 24, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    Did you remember to time me this time?

  8. Donna Lasko August 24, 2015 at 4:13 am #

    While waiting for the vet, she pet her pet.

  9. Mandy LinMandy Lin August 24, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    He moped around all day when his mom said he couldn’t ride his friend’s moped.

  10. Andrew Stein August 24, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    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.

  11. Beth Minton August 25, 2015 at 5:00 am #

    The invalid filed a complaint about the staff, but an investigation concluded that it was invalid.

  12. T.Redd August 26, 2015 at 8:22 am #

    I was lost looking for my lost soul…..

    • Va'Mon Princ February 4, 2024 at 6:28 pm #

      I think that’s the same meaning

  13. carolynbrock2014 August 27, 2015 at 10:23 am #

    In just a minute, I’ll add a minute amount of sodium to the mixture.

  14. Fernando G December 2, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    Speaking about heteronyms, I recently found the following funny “meme” on Twitter:
    -Will Will Smith smith?
    -Yes, Will Smith will smith

  15. Yorqinjon December 18, 2016 at 9:29 am #

    Please have you any dissertation about heteronomy?

  16. Yorqinjon December 18, 2016 at 9:31 am #

    dissertation About Heteronyms. How can find any dissertation samples about it?

  17. Livgently April 12, 2017 at 10:34 am #


    We recently wrote an article on Heteronyms on our blog. Do check it out. Hope you like it.

    — Livgently Team

  18. James jameson August 8, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

    I’ve already read this book so why can’t I read that one?

    • Rochelle Thompson December 29, 2023 at 7:49 am #

      How about you read the red one you read, read it out loud though

  19. N.A.A. August 30, 2020 at 9:20 pm #

    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.

  20. Mike Allen March 8, 2022 at 2:10 pm #

    He was putting in a lot of practice time on his putting stroke.

    • Jonathan Becher March 8, 2022 at 2:24 pm #

      There are others in golf. How about — The golfer yelled Fore as a warning for others

      • Duane Dickson December 30, 2023 at 6:26 am #

        If you think for a spell, you’ll realize that you don’t spell for and fore the same.

      • Drew December 30, 2023 at 8:41 am #

        Incorrect, heteronyms are spelled the same.

  21. Hank Daum February 1, 2023 at 1:42 am #

    They had to vet the Vietnam vet before he was allowed into vet school.

  22. pinkladyt December 29, 2023 at 11:46 pm #

    The fan wanted to pass me in line so he wouldn’t miss the quarterback throw his first pass of the game.

  23. Duane Dickson December 30, 2023 at 6:31 am #

    She just couldn’t bear being so close to the bear and begged him to close the cage door.

  24. Duane Dickson December 30, 2023 at 6:41 am #

    The Pole attempted to wind the flag around the pole, but the wind was so strong that his strength began to flag.

  25. Duane Dickson December 30, 2023 at 6:46 am #

    Drew drew out his pencils and drew the landscape.

  26. Drew December 30, 2023 at 8:37 am #

    There are some regular homonyms in some of these replies. Heteronyms must have different pronunciations.

  27. Joseph M Anderson December 30, 2023 at 9:15 am #

    It was hard to wind his watch in the wind.

  28. E P January 29, 2024 at 10:29 pm #

    She really needed to vent and stood by the air vent


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