Continuing with our “nyms” theme….
A heteronym is a word that is spelled the same but has a different pronunciation and meaning. They are surprisingly common in English and create difficulty for some readers. Here are a few examples:
One source (
) lists several hundred heteronyms and even provides explanations of what they mean and how they are pronounced.
When using a word that you recognize as a heteronym, it is important to place it in the sentence in such a way that the reader will not confuse it with another word. The word that I most frequently see confused is “read/read.” This particular word is especially confusing since the difference in meaning is one of tense (past vs. present), rather than a completely different meaning.
Now that we’ve completed the four main “nyms,” let’s review:
- Heteronym—Same spelling, different meaning and pronunciation (read/read)
- Homonym—Same pronunciation, different meaning and spelling (to/too/two)
- Synonym—Similar meaning, different spelling and pronunciation (big/large)
- Antonym—Opposite meaning, different spelling and pronunciation (big/small)
I find it particularly helpful to drop the “nym” portion and remember the meaning of the first part of the word.
- Hetero = different, other
- Homo = same, like
- Syn = same, similar
- Ant = opposite
If you are really interested, try your hand at this short article:
. Watch for the heteronyms; the author uses several throughout the article to illustrate her point.