HomeEnglishWhy are so many English words the same, but different?

I went to school before the Orton Gillingham teaching method existed. Teaching methods of dyslexics involved extra time to sit and stare at our work, and I learned how to read like most of the other kids in my class, through phonics.

Eventually, I did get the hang of it, but the older I grew, the less effectiveness I saw in that method. Not only does English break all of its own rules, but it has also borrowed words from other languages for centuries now.

The two things that still foul me up the most are homophones and heteronyms. Homophones are words that are spelled differently, and have different meanings but are pronounced exactly the same. Heteronyms, on the other hand, are words that are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently, and have different meanings.

Out of curiosity, I decided to see if I could find eight examples of each type of words and use them in a sentence to demonstrate their different meanings.

Homophones

you’re – You’re now reading a sentence.
your – You can read this sentence because your computer is on.

its – Don’t eat bread when its surface is covered in mold.
it’s – It’s not healthy to eat spoiled food.

there – Look over there!
they’re – They’re wearing the biggest hat I’ve ever seen!
their – Their taste is questionable.

isle – It’d be nice to have a vacation on a quaint isle in the Caribbean.
aisle – The vacation brochure I found in that store aisle makes it sound even better.

eye – My eye hurts.
I – I may have gotten something in it.

you – You like wool?
ewe – The ewe was relieved to see it go.

read – I read the best book, the other day.
red – It had a red cover.

read – It was a lot of fun to read on the boat.
reed – But then that reed hit me in the face, and I dropped it into the water.

(Yep, read is also a heteronym.)

Heteronym

Polish – Polish sausage is so tasty.
polish – I probably shouldn’t be eating the sausage while I polish these shoes.

bow – It’s funny how you bow your head when wrapping gifts.
bow – You always use the prettiest bow when you finish putting the paper on.

bass – She has a thing for bass fishing.
bass – Playing a bass guitar at the same time isn’t advisable, though.

wind – The wind whipped his hair.
wind – He liked to wind locks of hair around his finger.

refuse – Dumps deal with so much refuse every day.
refuse – At least they don’t refuse to recycle.

lead – They always want to lead us around.
lead – They haven’t realized we’ve stolen all their pencil lead, yet.

dove – There was a dove in that tree.
dove – It dove out a few minutes ago and flew away.

does – What does the stag want during breeding season.
does – He goes after as many does as he can.

It’s little wonder English is considered one of the hardest languages to learn for neurotypical folks. If you have a learning disability, these words can make it feel like you’re being set up to fail, especially when you’re at the beginning of the process.

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