Different Pronunciations, but Very Different Meanings

2 min read

Have you ever heard of "heteronyms"? They’re words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. Heteronyms often have multiple pronunciations and meanings. Can you think of any heteronyms you use every day? Depending on the context, your intended meaning might change quite a bit.

Record

Remember those vinyl disks spinning on a turntable that played music? That’s a record (REK-ord) and they’re making a comeback. However, musicians first have to record (ree-CORD) their songs before the album is sold.

Wound

If you’ve coiled something — like a string — around another object, you’ve wound (WOW-nd) it up. If your intent is to hurt someone, whether physically or with words, you’ll wound (WOO-nd) them. You might have wound up a rubber band, snapped it, and wounded someone nearby. We don’t recommend you try this.

Graduate

The pronunciation difference with graduate not only changes the word, but the part of speech as well. To graduate (GRAD-joo-ate), you cross the stage in your cap and gown and accept your diploma. If you’re a graduate (GRAD-joo-uht), you are the person crossing the stage.

Sewer

You’ll be glad to know that this is one case where the two pronunciations have absolutely no correlation. One sewer (SOO-er) is the underground tunnel system for household waste. The other sewer (SO-er) is known more professionally as a tailor, and makes and mends your clothes.

Excuse

The meanings behind the heteronyms "excuse" and "excuse" are similar, but you'll want to differentiate the two through the parts of speech and the way the “s” sounds in the last syllable. The noun excuse (ex-KYOOS) is the word to describe a reason for not completing your chores. In cases like these, you can use the verb excuse (ex-KYOOZ) to get out of the situation and pretend you’ve got to run an errand.

Minute

The only similarity between "minute" (MIN-uht) and "minute" (my-NOOT) with a long “i” is that the words both reference something small. In fact, minute with a long “i” is defined as something tiny or of little significance. A 60-second minute, however, is a brief unit of time.

Slough

How do you pronounce this one again? The good news is that if you guess, you’ll probably get at least one version right. If you pronounce the word as "sluff," you’re describing a snake shedding its skin. "Sloo" and "slow" (rhymes with cow) are different pronunciations for a swamp.

Nun

You probably recognize nuns as religiously affiliated women, but did you know "nun" can also rhyme with the word "noon"? If you say it like that, it’s the fourteenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

Deliberate

You can deliberate (de-LIB-er-ate) the pronunciations for many words — especially if you have an accent. Plenty of arguments spring from these conversations. However, don’t be deliberate (de-LIB-er-uht) in your intentions to feud if you want to keep your friends.

Photo credit: Dmitry Bayer/ Unsplash

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