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Note 147 – What are heterophones?

According to Richard C Lamb in his book The Queen’s English, “heterophones are words with different meanings which are spelt the same (homographs), but pronounced differently” e.g. row, rhyming with ‘go’ as in ‘I row my boat at weekends’ and row, rhyming with ‘cow’ as in ‘They had a row, and he walked out’.  Here are some examples:

This word, which is spelt the same in both examples below, can rhyme with ‘red (1)’ which is the past tense of the verb ‘to read’, or it can also rhyme with ‘reed (2)’ which is the present tense.

(1) I have read the paper from front to back (pronounced ‘red’)
(2) I read the morning paper every day (pronounced ‘reed’

This word, which is spelt the same in both examples below, can rhyme with ‘reed (1)’ which is the present tense of the verb ‘to lead’ and it can also rhyme with ‘led (2)’ .

1) I lead a team of people (pronounced ‘leed’)
(2) It was a lead weight (pronounced ‘led’)

To remember what a heterophone is, a tip Richard C Lamb gives is to break the word down into two parts: ‘hetero’ meaning ‘different’ and ‘phone’ which makes you imagine a ‘sound’ or a voice. 

Over the last couple of days, I have blogged about homographs (words with different meanings, spelt the same, but not necessarily pronounced the same) and homophones (words sounding the same, even though they might be spelt differently) and now today heterophones. If you want to see how these words compare Wikipedia have a very interesting venn diagram on their site:

Something to consider

As a writer, you have to be clear which meaning you are using otherwise it could get very confusing to the reader e.g. in the sentence ‘I always row with my partner’, are you in a boat or having an argument?

This blog forms part of my writing challenge.  Don’t forget that you can subscribe to receive my daily blogs by email so that you don’t miss any. Just click ‘sign me up’ on the home page. Alternatively you can follow my blogs on Twitter!/madeirasandra or my ‘Tips and Luxuries’ Facebook page. Requests for future blogs (punctuation/grammar/writing tips) are always welcome.

Until tomorrow…


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Reference list:

Bernard C. Lamb The Queen’s English (2010), UK



About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Subjects I tend to blog about are life skills, parenting, decluttering, worklife balance, etc. At the moment I am on a decluttering mission creating space in my house, garden and mind. I have challenged myself to do at least ten minutes a day and write about it. Have a good day! Sandra Freelance Writer


One thought on “Note 147 – What are heterophones?

  1. English has to be a horrible language to try to learn as a second language because of little things like this. I remember in school a teacher writing words on the board, and everyone said them differently, but we were all right. We were just reading a different “word” in our head… but it was the same word on the board.

    Posted by Jennifer M Eaton | September 26, 2011, 3:56 am

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