When learning English, there are a few pitfalls (confusing things, tricks) to be aware of. One of these are heteronyms in English, which are words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently and with different meanings. Heteronyms in English can be very confusing, but they’re good to be aware of. Heteronyms are everywhere (common) in the language, so we’ve put together a list of some of the most common heteronyms in English that you will see. Sometimes you’ll only be able to tell the meaning of a heteronym from the context (words around it) so make sure to pay attention to the whole sentence!
If you want to improve your pronunciation and vocabulary, read on to find out more about heteronyms in English, along with their pronunciation and definitions!
While minute and minute are pronounced differently, they both have to do with things that are small in size. This is one of the most common heteronyms in English, so I’m sure you’ll see it everywhere!
Minute: “my-nute” and rhymes with “toot.” Something that is very small in size, or is insignificant.
- I forgot to include a minute detail in my presentation. I only realized it when I was halfway done, but I think it’s okay.
- She asked me if I could take care of a minute task for her, but I’m so busy that I don’t have any time at all, no matter how small it is.
Minute: rhymes with “in it.” A measure of time equaling 60 seconds.
- I’m going to be about two minutes late for our meeting, but I’m on my way!
- She said she would be here in a minute, so she should be here very soon.
House and house is one of the more interesting heteronyms in English, as (because) they both have to do with someone’s living situation.
House: rhymes with “mouse.” A place where someone lives. Generally a freestanding (not part of another) building with one or more floors.
- I have to clean my house today. I’ve been too busy to clean for a couple of weeks, so it’s pretty dirty!
- They’re tired of living in an apartment, so they’ve decided to start looking to buy a house.
House: rhymes with “cows.” To provide (give, make available) someone with somewhere to live.
- We have a lot of guests coming to visit for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we can’t house all of them, so some have to stay in a hotel.
- Steve had to leave his apartment when he lost his job, so he asked his best friend Tyler if he could house him while looking for a job.
A good way to remember wind and wind is to think of movement. Both of these words are concerned with moving around in different ways.
Wind: rhymes with “pinned.” The natural movement of air.
- I like going on walks on windy days, because I enjoy seeing the wind blow through the trees.
- He took his children to fly kites in the park whenever the wind was blowing. They always had fun together!
Wind: rhymes with “kind.” To move something in a twisting motion.
- As (while) she was knitting, her yarn became tangled (knotted up). She had to unwind it before she could keep knitting.
- There’s a beautiful hiking trail that follows the river as it winds through the valley. Would you like to go hiking there with me this weekend?
Bow and bow sound nothing alike when they’re pronounced, but a good way to try to think of them is a folding motion. To make a bow, you have to fold a ribbon, and to bow you have to fold at your waist!
Bow: rhymes with “cow.” To bend at the waist as a gesture (sign) of respect.
- In Japan, people bow to each other to show their respect. This may take some getting used to if you’re used to shaking hands.
- If you ever meet a King or a Queen, you’ll probably have to bow to them when you meet them.
Bow: rhymes with “no.” A type of knot with two loops coming out of either side.
- Do you know how to tie a bow tie? I always forget how!
- When you tie your shoes, how do you tie the bow? Everyone seems to do it differently.
Close and close may look the same, but their meanings are quite different. Here’s how you can tell them apart:
Close: rhymes with “nose.” To come to an end, or to block an entrance.
- My favorite store opens at 9am and closes at 5pm. I try to go there as often as I can.
- Can you close the window, please? It’s been open for a long time, and I’m starting to get cold.
Close: rhymes with “gross.” To be near to someone or something.
- Aunt Tina just called from the car. They’re very close! They’ll be here in about 20 minutes.
- I’m very close to him. I consider him to be my best friend.
Have you encountered any of these words before? Can you think of any more heteronyms in English? Share your experience with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and thinks heteronyms in English are fascinating!