Equivocal Words
Words with two pronunciations


An equivocal word can be pronounced in two different ways, meaning two different things. This is a concept that is the opposite of a homonym, or perhaps an opposite.

It is actually difficult to find a standard name for this object. We might call this a "homogram", "homograph", "heterophone", "heteronym" or "heterovox". It's important to keep in mind the relevant qualities we are considering. For instance, we could consider the qualities a "word" to be spelling, sound, and meaning. Using the particles "gram", "phone", "nym", and "logos", and the modifiers "hetero" and "homo/syn", our categorization might look like this:

However, most of these concepts are not officially named, and some of these names are already used for other concepts, and in fact some of these names are already used for some of these concepts but not for the ones I have suggested here. Who makes these rules?

The OED and the Encyclopedia Brittanica say that a homonym is a pair of words with the same spelling and different pronunciation! Webster's Second International Dictionary prefers two words with different spelling and the same pronunciation. Webster's Third says that it's two words with the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings!

William S Huff, a professor of architecture at SUNY Buffalo, tried to categorize the possibilities in terms of same or different spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. In his system, the words we are talking about are heterophonic homonyms. It is claimed that he had found 392 pairs of examples.

        abstract (vague or general; to summarize or take)
        address (location; to pay attention)
        affect (personal bearing; to influence)
        alum (a graduate of a college; an astringent)
        agape (a love feast; wide open)
        agate ("AGG-et": a semiprecious stone; a-GATE: going, 
          leaving, out the door)
        are ("ARR": exist;"AIR": a metric measurement of area)
        arete (a sharp ridge of a mountain; excellence or valor)
        attribute (to ascribe to; a characteristic)
        august (distinguished or noble; a month)
        awing (awe-inspiring; flying)
        axes (more than one axe; more than one axis)
        bass ("BASE": a low, deep sound; "BASS": a fish)
        begum (?; to befoul with gum)
        bouse (?; to drink)
        bow (to bend the upper body; a ribbon decoration)
        bowed (bent; used a bow)
        bower (one who bows; one who uses a bow)
        buffet (selecting your own food; a hard knock or strike)
        bustier (having larger breasts; a kind of push up bra)
        cello (cellophane tape; a musical instrument)
        close (near; to shut)
        closer (nearer; one who shuts)
        coax (coaxial cable; to persuade)
        collect (COLLect: a short prayer; coLLECT: to gather)
        combine (a farm machine; to put together)
        commune (to harmonize with; a closely knit social group)
        compact (tightly packed; treaty, cosmetic case)
        console (comfort; a set or collection of instruments)
        content (satisfied; items being contained)
        contract (decrease; treaty or agreement)
        converse (to speak with; a logical proposition with 
          reversed implication)
        coop (a crate or henhouse; a cooperative society)
        crooked (dishonest; made a bend)
        croupier (a casino dealer; more afflicted with the croup)
        cussed (swore; ornery, dadblamed)
        defect (a flaw; to switch sides)
        demos (demonstrations; the people of an ancient Greek state)
        denier (one who denies; a French coin, or unit of silk fineness)
        descent (genealogical origin; to remove the smell)
        desert (wasteland; to abandon)
        despot (to remove spots; a tyrant)
        detail (to remove the tail; small item)
        digest
        does (female deer; performs or acts)
        dove (plunged; a pigeon)
        drawer (one who draws; a compartment in a piece of furniture)
        entrance (a way in; to enchant)
        evening (making even or smooth; the late part of the day)
        exploit (adventure; to take advantage of)
        expose (to show or bare; a revealing story or article)
        fillet (a narrow strip of fabric; a filet)
        flourish (similar to flour; to thrive or prosper)
        flower (a blossom; something that flows)
        gallant (brave and gentlemanly; a suitor)
        gill (GILL: how fish breathe; JILL: 1/4 of a pint)
        glower (GLO-ER: something that glows; GLOW-ER: a scowl)
        gout ("GOWT": a disease; "GOTE": an artificial water channel; 
          "GOO" - taste)
        herb ("ERB": a spice; "HERB": a man's name)
        hinder (to thwart or delay; the back part of a ship)
        housewife (a wife; a sewing kit case)
        incense (to make angry; an aromatic smoke)
        intern (a medical student; to confine)
        invalid (a sick person; not good or correct)
        jagged (teased; sharp and uneven)
        job (a task; a patient guy in the Bible)
        lamed (the Hebrew letter corresponding to "L"; hobbled)
        lather (foam; one who uses a lathe; one who installs lath)
        lead (to guide; a heavy metal)
        leading (in the front; lead used to secure stained glass)
        limber (agile; the guy who cuts the branches off a tree)
        lineage (the parental history; linear measurement)
        liver (one who lives; an internal organ)
        lower (to look sullen; less high)
        luger (a kind of pistol; someone who rides a luge)
        lunged (having a lung; made a sudden movement)
        lunger (a tuberulosis patient; one who makes a sudden movement)
        mares (female horses; lunar "oceans")
        medic (a medical technician; the language of the Medes)
        minute (sixty seconds; tiny)
        mole (a sauce; a near-sighted rodent)
        moped (was grumpy; a motorized bicycle)
        mow (to cut down; a heap or pile of hay)
        nonage (childhood/one ninth of decedent's goods given to clergy)
        number (more numb; a quantity)
        overage (too old; an excessive amount)
        pace (tempo; Latin for "peace"; academic Latin for "with 
          all due respect")
        palled (behaved like friends; lost color)
        palsy (friendly; a trembling disorder)
        pasties ("PAH-stees", pies; "PAY-stees", adhesive nipple coverings)
        pasty ("PAH-stee": a pie; "PAY-stee": tasting like paste)
        pate (head; pureed liver)
        patent (obvious; a license)
        peaked (having a pointy top; having a tired or sick appearance)
        pier (a dock; one who "pies" type)
        placer (someone who places; an alluvial sand or gravel 
          deposit containing ore)
        polish (from Poland; to smooth or make shiny)
        predate (to precede in time; to prey upon)
        preposition (to put something in place early; a part of speech)
        present (already sent; to introduce; a gift) 
        preserve (to serve earlier; to protect or guard)
        primer (a beginner's reader; a treatment applied before painting)
        proceeds (carries on; the profits)
        pussy (full of pus; a cat)
        putter (one who puts; a golf club used for short shots)
        putting (placing; hitting a short distance)
        rachel ("RACHEL": a name; "RAH-SHEL": a tannish face powder)
        ragged (worn out; teased)
        rainier (more rainy; a man's name)
        recenter (more recent; to center again)
        recess (time out from school; an indentation or hollowed out area)
        recollect (to remember; to collect again)
        recover (to become well again; to cover again)
        recreation (a hobby; a remaking)
        reformation (a change of shape; the Protestant movement)
        refuse (to deny, or to fuse again; garbage or waste)
        relay (to lay again; to pass along)
        resent (sent again; to hold a grudge)
        reserve (serve again; to hold back)
        reside (side again; to dwell)
        resign (sign again; relinquish a position)
        resolve (solve again; to vow or clear up)
        resort (sort again; holiday spot)
        resound(RESOUND: to sound (seek the bottom) again; REZOUND: 
          to reecho or be repeated)
        resume (to start again; a summary, particularly of one's 
          work experience)
        review (to reconsider; to view again)
        row (an argument; to propel a boat)
        rugged (having a rug; sturdy and rough)
        secretive (prone to hiding; emitting secretions)
        seer (a prophet or fortuneteller; one who sees something)
        severer (one who severs; more severe)
        sewer (one who sews; a waste pipe)
        shower (one who shows; a downpour of rain)
        singer (one who sings; one who singes)
        skied (SKEED: used skis; SKIDE: hit a ball into the sky, or 
          had a sky of a certain kind)
        slaver (a dealer in slaves; to let saliva run from the mouth)
        slouch ("SLOWCH": to slump; "SLOOCH": a pipe by which an 
          engine gets water )
        slough (to shed; a muddy area)
        sow (a female pig; to plant seeds)
        stingy (stinging; miserly)
        supply (to provide; in a supple fashion)
        swinger ("SWINGER": one who swings; "SWINJER": one who swinges)
        swinging ("SWINGING", moving back and forth; 
          "SWINJING": superlative)
        tarry (to linger; covered in tar)
        tear (to rip; cry juice)
        thou (you; a thousand)
        tier (something that ties; a layer)
        ton ("TUN": 2000 pounds; "TONE": the prevailing fashion or mode)
        toots (honks (as a horn); a familar address, short for "tootsey")
        tower (something that tows; a tall building)
        underage (too young; a shortfall)
        unionized (part of a union; not ionized)
        vale (a valley; a Latin greeting)
        wicked (evil; having or acting like a wick)
        wind (the thing that has answers blowin' in it; to coil up)
        windy (gusty; winding)
        wound (damage; wrapped around)
      

In many cases, the variation in pronunciation can be seen as a establishing a clear distinction between verbs, nouns and adjectives with a common semantic root:

        aged (old; became old)
        alternate (a substitute; to switch back and forth)
        articulate (to express; well-spoken)
        associate (to group; a partner)
        blessed (to make holy; to be holy)(Thanks to Rusty Eichblatt)
        combat (to fight; strife)
        conduct (to pass along; personal manner or behavior)
        confines (imprisons; a range)
        conflict (strife; to clash)
        consort (a companion; to associate with)
        construct (build; a built thing)
        contact (to touch; the fact of being in touch)
        contest (a competition; to compete)
        contrast (a difference; to point out a difference)
        convert (to change; one who changes)
        convict (a legal guilt-bearer; to assign guilt for a crime)
        deliberate (to consider; considered)
        dogged (followed, like a dog; persistent, like a dog)
        excuse (to forgive; an exculpatory explanation)
        export (to send out; something sent out)
        frequent (often; to appear somewhere often)
        house (a dwelling; to provide shelter)
        impact (to hit or affect; the effect)
        implant (to insert; something that is inserted)
        import (to bring in; something brought in)
        intimate (deeply personal; to hint or suggest)
        invert (to turn upside down; a homosexual)
        laminate (to roll or compress into a plate; a rolled or 
          compressed plate)
        legitimate (lawful or valid; to make valid)
        learned (was taught; greatly educated)
        legged (having legs; walked)
        live (not prerecorded; to reside)
        moderate (soft; to soften)
        mouth (one's gob; to seem to speak, but with no sound)
        multiply (to reproduce; several times)
        object (a thing; to complain)
        perfect (flawless; to make flawless)
        permit (a license; to allow)
        pervert (to corrupt; a corrupt person)
        prayer (one who prays; what one who prays is praying)
        produce (vegetables; to create or present)
        project (to stick out; a task or hobby)
        read (present tense; past tense)
        rebel (one who revolts; to revolt)
        record (a copy or note of something; to make a copy or 
          note of something)
        rerun (to show again; something shown again)
        separate (apart; to part)
        subject (a topic; to impose)
        transform (to change; a means of changing)
        transport (to move something; a means of moving)
        transpose (to move; a matrix derived from another by 
          switching indices)
        use (to employ; an employment)
        used (employed; was wont to)
      

Not quite:

        defense (military protection; football counterattack)
        kinder (more kind; children)
        lame (crippled; a kind of fabric (with an accent mark))
        lied (prevaricated; a German song)
        mother (mom; one who collects moths)
        reached (re-ached, but...)
        rose ( a flower; a kind of wine (with an accent mark) )
        sake ( benefit; Japanese liquor)
        sundries
      

Names:

        Chopin (a Polish pianist; a ceramic cup or liquid measure)
        Concord/concord (a city in Massachusetts; harmony)
        Degas/degas (the painter; to remove gas or gasoline)
        Dieter/dieter (German first name; a weight loser)
        Dives/dives
        Guise/guise
        Lima/lima (the capital of Peru; a kind of bean)
        Mobile/mobile/mobile (the capital of Alabama; able to move; 
          an artwork with moving parts)
        Modest/modest (Mussourgsky's first name; humble)
        Natal/natal (a city in South Africa; referring to birth)
        Nice/nice (a French city; friendly or polite)
        Pall Mall
        Reading/reading
        Tangier/tangier (a town in Morocco; spicier)
        Trier/trier (a German city; one who tries)
      

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Last modified on 23 October 2008.