This is part of an occasional series showcasing the wacky crazy and lovable world of the English language.
I’m a native English speaker. I also have a degree in English, have a teaching certification in English and English as a Second or Other Language. I also teach English pronunciation. To make things worse, I read a lot – in English. English is kind of my jam (something I enjoy a lot).
I also have to laugh at the crazy things about English that I “know” as a teacher/speaker/reader/etc., but that I forget about until they’re right in my face (made very obvious).
English has a ton of words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings.
“But, wait!” I can hear you saying already. “Doesn’t that mean they’re the same word???”
Strangely enough, no!
For the vast majority of these words, they come from different roots. As you may well know, English has a lot of roots – German, Norse, Latin, some Hebrew is in there, too. Eventually, some of these words will evolve to be spelled the same way, even though they have different meanings. And, so, we get heteronyms – words with the same spelling, but different pronunciations and meanings!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to exhaust you with a full list of heteronyms –nobody has time for that! But, I will regale you with some of my favorites with example definitions:
Affect – His affect affected everyone’s mood.
/ə.ˈfɛkt/. Verb: To influence or change something.
/ˈæ.fɛkt/. Noun: A mood or emotion as demonstrated in physical signs
Alternate – The alternate alternated between Spanish and English.
/ˈɑl.tɚ.nət/. Noun or Adjective: A substitute.
/ˈɑl.tɚ.neɪt/. Verb: To switch back and forth.
Bow – The bow of the ship was decorated with a bow.
/boʊ/. Noun: A weapon used with an arrow, or something tied and used as a decoration or ornament. Verb: to play an instrument with a bow
/baʊ/ Verb: To bend as a sign of respect. Noun: The front of a boat or ship.
Content – The content of the envelope made her content.
/ˈkɑn.tɛnt/ Noun: What is inside something; the meaning or subject of something
/kənˈtɛnt/ Adjective: satisfied, happy
Dove – The dove dove off of the building.
/dʌv/ Noun: A bird, also called a pigeon
/doʊv/ Verb: Past tense of “dive”; to jump off something
Invalid – The arguments were invalid to the invalid.
/ɪnˈvæl.ɪd/Adjective: Not valid; incorrect
/ˈɪn.və.lɪd/ Noun: Someone who is ill or disabled
Minute – The minute amount of money disappeared in a minute.
/ˈmɪnɪt/ Noun: A unit of time equaling 60 seconds; a short time
/maɪˈn(j)ut/ Adjective: Very small; exacting in details
Object – I object to the object they are using.
/ˈɑb.d͡ʒɛkt/ Noun: A thing; a goal
/əbˈd͡ʒɛkt/ Verb: To disagree with something or someone
Refuse – We must refuse his refuse.
/ˈɹɛfjuːs/ Noun. Garbage
/ɹɪˈfjuːz/ Verb. To decline or withhold permission
Sow – Have you ever seen a sow sow flower seeds?
/saʊ/ Noun. A female pig or bear
/soʊ/ Verb. To plant seeds
Tear – His boss is going to tear him a new one – he’ll have tears in his eyes.
/tɛɚ/ Verb. To separate by pulling apart; to rip
/tɪɚ/ Noun. Fluid produced from the eye
Wound – We wound the wound in a bandage.
/wund/ Noun. An injury to the body
/waʊnd/ Verb. Past tense of wind – to circle around something
A deeper dive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronym_(linguistics)