English Lessons

Five Pairs of Homographs You Ought to Know


Homographs, homonyms and homophones might make the English language funny and intriguing, but beyond a shadow of a doubt, they give a tough time to learners who don’t have English as their native language. Even native speakers, at times, tend to struggle with them, but being native, they are naturally inclined to understand them without having to get into the nitty-gritties. However, when they face challenges, they do try to seek help from reliable sources.

Be that as it may, homonyms in English are words that have the same pronunciation and spelling but different meanings. Homophones, on the other hand, are two or more words that sound alike but get spelt differently.

The word ‘bear’ is a good example of a homonym, for while it can convey many meanings as a verb, it can function as a noun too.

Let us illustrate this with two example sentences:

(1) The old man could not bear/tolerate the pain in his head. (Here, the word ‘bear’ is used as a verb. Note that the second and third forms of this verb are ‘bore’ and ‘borne’ respectively. In a few situations, the third form is ‘born’.)

(2) I saw a brown bear/a large heavy mammal with thick fur in the national park. (In this sentence, the word ‘bear’ functions as a noun. Therefore, it is the object of the verb ‘saw’.)

The words ‘son’ and ‘sun’ are homophones, for they sound similar (in fact, the same in this case) but have varied spellings and meanings. Some more sets of homophones include ‘holy and wholly’, ‘right, write and rite’, and ‘rain, rein and reign’.

We will be discussing homonyms and homophones in one of the forthcoming lessons, but in this one, our focus is going to be limited to homographs. So if you are ready, let’s begin!

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What Are Homographs?

Homographs are words that have the same spelling but may or may not have the same pronunciation. While this implies that all homonyms are automatically homographs, many homographs do not fall into the category of homonyms. In this lesson, we have listed five such pairs that confuse even native English speakers.

Pairs of Homographs You Should Know As a Learner

Pair #1

present (noun and adjective)

  • Number of syllables: 2
  • Pronunciation: ˈprɛzənt
  • Syllable stress: When this word functions as a noun or adjective, the stress is placed on the first syllable.

Plural noun: presents

Example sentences:

  1. I was present/in attendance at the function. (used as an adjective)
  2. The present/current trends seem to suggest that the economy is getting back on track. (used as an adjective)
  3. We are working on a new novel at present/at the moment. (used as a noun)
  4. He liked our birthday present/gift. (used as a noun)
  5. They haven’t understood the simple present tense yet. (used as an adjective)

present (verb)

  • Number of syllables: 2
  • Pronunciation: prɪˈzɛnt
  • Syllable stress: When used as a verb, the stress is not on the first syllable, but on the second one.

The five forms of the verb ‘present’: present, presented, presented, presenting, presents (in each of the forms, the stress is on the second syllable).

Example sentences:

  1. We presented/expressed our points of view at the meeting.
  2. The principal presented/gave away the awards to the winners.
  3. We presented/showed our ticket before entering the metro station.
Time to unwrap these presents! | Image by Yvette Fang from Pixabay

Pair #2

conduct (verb)

  • Number of syllables: 2
  • Pronunciation: kənˈdʌkt
  • Syllable stress: When ‘conduct’ functions as a verb, the stress is placed on the second syllable.

The five forms of the verb ‘conduct’: conduct, conducted, conducted, conducting, and conducts (in each of the forms the stress is on the second syllable).

Example sentences:

  1. Conduct/Behave yourself properly in the classroom.
  2. Santosh sir conducted/supervised the Mathematics test, not Simi ma’am.
  3. The way you conducted/guided us throughout the tour was amazing.

conduct (noun)

  • Number of syllables: 2
  • Pronunciation: kɒn dʌkt
  • Syllable stress: When used as a noun, the stress is placed on the first syllable, not the second one.

Example sentences:

  1. Your conduct/behaviour determines your fate.
  2. The conduct/management of this firm has gone from bad to worse.

NOTE: This noun ‘conduct’ is almost always uncountable.

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Pair #3

alternate (verb)

  • Number of syllables: 3
  • Pronunciation: ˈɔːltəneɪt or ˈɒltəneɪt/
  • Syllable Stress: When this word functions as a verb, the last/third syllable takes the stress.

The forms of the verb ‘alternate’: alternate, alternated, alternated, alternating, and alternates.

Example sentences:

  1. Day alternates with night. (Day and night occur successively/one after the other)
  2. Their daughter has been alternating between mania and depression.
  3. The children alternated/took turns on the roundabout.
  4. Both of us alternated the task. (Both of us did the task by taking turns.)
  5. Could you alternate the black and blue bricks to form the pattern you see on this page? (Could you cause the black and blue bricks to form the pattern you see on the his page?)

alternate (adjective and noun)

  • Number of syllables: 3
  • Pronunciation: ɔːlˈtəːnət or ɒlˈtəːnət
  • Syllable stress: When the word ‘alternate’ is used as an adjective or noun, the stress occurs on the second syllable.

Example sentences:

  1. My son attends English classes on alternate days/every other day. (used as an adjective)
  2. Their alternate/mutual acts of generosity are noticed by all. (Used as an adjective)
  3. Could you focus on the alternate lines/every second line of this poem? (used as an adjective)
  4. He is my alternate/substitute. (Used as a noun)
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Pair IV

wound (verb and noun)

  • Number of syllables: 1
  • Pronunciation: wuːnd

Example sentences:

  1. Let me bandage your wound/injury. (used as a noun)
  2. I was wounded/injured badly in yesterday’s football match. (used as a verb)

The five forms of the verb ‘wound’: wound, wounded, wounded, wounding, and wounds.

wound (past and past participle of the verb ‘wind’)

  • Number of syllables: 1
  • Pronunciation: waʊnd

Example sentences:

  1. Our teacher wound up/ended the session at two o’clock.
  2. Have they wound down/closed their business?
  3. My mother wound/wrapped a bandage around my wound (injury).
  4. Did you know we wound/proceeded in curving motions on our path through the hills?
  5. The man wound/blew the trumpet.

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Pair V

tear (mostly a verb)

  • Number of syllables: 1
  • Pronunciation: tɛː

Example sentences:

  1. I will tear/pull apart into pieces the page if you draw such pathetic pictures on them.
  2. The doctor will have to tear/will have to lacerate the skin to examine what is wrong.
  3. They said they would tear/would separate forcefully the painting from the wall.
  4. I could see the tear/cut on the murdered man’s neck. (used as a noun)
  5. Your shirt has a tear/hole. (used as a noun)

The five forms of the verb ‘tear’: tear, tore, torn, tearing, tears. Please note that when used as a noun, the plural of ‘tear’ is ‘tears’.

tear (mostly a noun)

  • Number of syllables: 1
  • Pronunciation: tɪə

Example sentences:

  1. Tears/Drops of saline water rolled down his cheeks.
  2. When I saw her, she was in tears/crying.
  3. My eyes always tear/overflow with tears when I chop onions. (used as a verb)

When used as a verb, ‘tear’ assumes five forms: tear, teared, teared, tearing, and tears.

Let’s Have Some Fun!

Since you now know these five pairs of homographs, why don’t you try having some fun with them? Here are five sentences we have constructed. We hope you will be able to grasp the meanings of the words we have just discussed and also know how to pronounce them correctly.

  1. They are presenting the presents to the boys at present.
  2. Your conduct, while the session was being conducted, was bad.
  3. My alternate and I alternate with each other, holding the sessions on alternate nights.
  4. The wound was wound with a piece of cloth yesterday.
  5. Don’t tear his photo, or else, he will be in tears!

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PS: We will get back with more homographs soon. Stay tuned, and remember to subscribe to our weblog by scrolling down further so you don’t miss any updates. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you have any doubts, feel free to mail them to us at literaryexpress@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

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