In the English language, there are many words that are spelt like other words, yet are pronounced differently depending on the context of the sentence or the definition of the word. For non-native English speakers, this can be tricky, as there are many words that have two types of pronunciation. The best way to understand the words is through vocabulary practise and by reading them in context, in order to best recognise how they are used. In English, words that follow certain rules in terms of spelling, pronunciation and definition are grouped into three categories: homonyms, homophones and heteronyms.
Homonyms are words that are spelt the same, but are pronounced differently, and have different definitions.
Examples of homonyms include:
Bow (n)- a long wooden stick used to play instruments like the violin or cello. E.g. I play the violin with a bow.
Bow (v)- to bend at the waist in respect. E.g. They always bow at their father.
Bow is a very common homonym, and has about seven different definitions, but luckily only two ways of pronouncing it.
Homophones are words that are spelt differently, but are pronounced the same and have different definitions.
Examples of homophones include:
Band (n)- a group of people, usually for music. E.g. The boys were in a band that was mildly successful.
Banned (v)- past tense of ban, to prohibit someone from doing something. E.g. The girl was banned from entering the library because of her bad behaviour.
Even though the words have different definitions and spellings, they are still pronounced the same.
Heteronyms are words that are spelt the same, and are pronounced the same, but have different definitions.
Row (v)- to use oars to move a boat. E.g. He rowed the boat to the shore.
Row (n)- to have a fight. E.g. The girls had a row over who could drive the car.