You Don’t Say – Vol 17 – by Ray Hudson

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Ray Hudson

Heteronyms – A Sound Idea!

Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

I was speaking to a person who does not have English as a first language, about words that, although they are spelled the same, have different meanings and pronunciations.

Heteronyms are what they’re called, and that was knew to me as well, so I thought I would explore this magical world this week.

Under some circumstances, English follows grammatical rules quite well; “I” before “e” except after “c” and so on, but heteronyms are those words that you simply have to learn.

I wrote some time ago about weird words such as those that end in ough like cough, through, thought and son on, but they all start differently.

Imagine the confusion for a non-English speaker to encounter ‘wound.’ If I wrap a bandage around an injury, here’s what you get (phoneteically): We wound (wow-nd) the bandage around the wound (woo-nd) – stress on first syllable in both words.

If I see the word invalid, is it referring to something that is expired, such as a licence or insurance policy, or is it referring to someone who is incapacitated? If it’s expired (or no good) the word is pronounced in-VAL-id, stress on the middle syllable, but if it refers to someone who may be confined to a bed, for example, you would say they are an in-vah-LID (stress the last syllable).

Present is one of these words, but it’s a triple whammy. You pree-ZENT a gift, or a performance, and if you do that right now, you are doing it in the preh-zent (equal stress), and if it is a gift, you could also call it a PREH-z’nt . Fun huh?

Here are some other examples:
Dove either describes a white pigeon (duv) or the past tense of diving – the bird dove (doev) off the bridge railing.
Object can either refer to something such as a rock – as in ‘that object (OB-ject) over there. But if you’re an unhappy lawyer in a courtroom, you might want to object (ob-JECT) about a line of questioning.
Similar to object, subject also has a duel role. If you are exposing someone to something, you could be said to subject (sub-JECT) them to the experience, whereas if we are talking about math or social studies you would be describing a school subject (SUB-ject).
Lead is yet another dual purpose word. It can be out-front or very heavy! If out-front is the description, the pronunciation is lead (leed), but if it’s used to describe the heavy foot on the accelerator, it would refer to the heavy metal (lehd) which is also the past tense of leed.
Wind: As in the ‘wound’ example above, this word can either describe the rapid movement of air (win-d) or the wrapping of something (wine-d).
Learned: To have learned (lurn-d) or acquired knowledge is good, but to have acquired the knowledge from that learned (lur-ned equal stress) person is best.

I hope you will not desert (diss-ert) this dissertation before you have dessert deh-surt) in the desert (deh-zurt) oasis this evening. We’ll shed a tear (teer), or go on a tear (tare) until next week.

Ray