The opposite of a homonym


I’ve wondered about this for many long years and I’ve never found the answer. I went to grade school about 70 years ago. Homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled differently, like “red” and “read,” or “led” and “lead.” What I would like to know is what to call the words that are spelled the same but sound different. Like lead and lead [pronounced leed]. Wind and wind [pronounced whined]. Like minute and minute [as in small]. There’s many more — I just can’t think of them offhand. What’s the term for those things? What’s the opposite of a homonym?

— Confused

Generally, we use the word “homonym” incorrectly, applying it too widely and covering lots of different linguistic terms. You’re doing it, but its probably not your fault. Most people were given the wrong information as kids and they never ran afoul of a linguistics expert who sets them straight, as happened to me one strange day in the hallways of Alice University. The easiest way to clarify this is with a list:

Homonyms (literally “same name”) are words that are spelled the same, pronounced the same, yet have different meanings. E.g., “bay” can mean a body of water or a beagle’s howl.

Homophones (“same sounds”) are words where the pronunciation is the same, the meaning is different, and the spelling can also be different. Your example of “led” and “lead” (the metal) is an example of a homophone that’s not a true homonym.

Homographs (“same writing”) are words that are spelled the same, mean different things, and aren’t necessarily pronounced the same. “Wind” (as in blowing) and “wind” (as in wind the clock) are homographs.

Heterographs (“different writing”) are words that are spelled differently, mean different things, yet are pronounced the same way. Your example of “red” (the color) and “read” (the past participle) demonstrates this.

Finally, we come to heteronyms (“different name”), which are the opposite of homonyms. Those are words that are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have different meanings. That’s where “minute” (60 seconds) and “minute” (teeny-tiny) fit in.

That should be enough to process for now. Sorry you had to wait seventy years to get the answer on this one.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad