19

There are some pairs of words that are spelled the same, aside from capitalization, but pronounced differently. One example of this is Polish - polish. I remembered another pair but forgot it. Can somebody help?

The following question is related, but not the same because it only asks about words with different meanings, and doesn't specify that they must have different pronunciations: "Words that change meaning when the first letter is capitalized"

  • 3
    My Chance card says, "Take a ride on the Reading. If you pass Go, collect $200." – J.R. Jan 15 '16 at 14:20
  • 25
    Surely the capitalisation itself isn't what determines the difference in pronunciation, it's because they're different words (one of which is usually a proper noun). "Polish people often think of Warsaw" vs. "Polish this brass ornament!" – TripeHound Jan 15 '16 at 14:47
  • 1
    It looks like you answered your own question. Yes. – Jonathan Pullano Jan 15 '16 at 18:08
  • 1
    @sumelic: The poster here is asking for words whose pronunciation is different as a proper name and as a common word—like Polish/polish and J.R.'s example Reading [Pennsylvania]/reading. That isn't a duplicate of the question about words that change meaning between proper name and common name, although any proper name is likely to have a different meaning from that of a common word that has the same spelling. – Sven Yargs Aug 19 '16 at 19:29
  • 1
    One odd case is Lima/lima: The capital of Peru is usually pronounced leemuh in English, but (as I understand it) Lima, Ohio, is pronounced like the lima in lima bean. – Sven Yargs Aug 19 '16 at 19:35
33

There are more than two actually.

Here's a list of twelve heteronym pairs in which one word is capitalized (typically, a proper noun), and the other is not:

  • August /ˈɔːgəst/ (proper noun) and august /ɔːˈgʌst/ (adjective)

  • Begin /(the Israeli politician) and begin /bɪˈɡɪn/ (to start)

  • Degas /deɪɡɑː/ and degas /diːˈɡæs/

  • Job /dʒoʊb/ (the Biblical figure) and job /dʒɒb/ (an occupation)

  • Natal /nəˈtɑːl, -ˈtæl/ (the Brazilian city) and natal /ˈneɪtəl/

  • Nice /niːs/ (the city in France) and nice /naɪs/ (kind, friendly)

  • Noel /ˈnoʊəl/ (name) and noel /noʊˈɛl/ (a Christmas carol)

  • Polish /ˈpoʊlɪʃ/ (the nationality) and polish /ˈpɒlɪʃ/ (making things shiny)

  • Rainier /rəˈnɪər, reɪˈnɪər/ (the name, or mountain) and rainier /ˈreɪniər/ (more rainy)

  • Reading /ˈrɛdɪŋ/ (the place name) and reading /ˈriːdɪŋ/ (the activity involving books)

  • SEAT /ˈsɛ.æt/ (the Spanish automaker) and seat /siːt/

  • Tangier /tænˈdʒɪər/ (in Morocco) and tangier /ˈtæŋiər/ (more tangy)

– words taken from Richard Stevens's List of Heteronyms

Scone/scone and Lima/lima can be added to the list.

  • 3
    Which ones are pronounced differently, if you label the ones that have a different pronunciation it's +1 from me. – Mari-Lou A Jan 15 '16 at 11:32
  • 13
    @Mari-LouA - aren't they all ? Isn't that the point? – Dan Jan 15 '16 at 11:50
  • 4
    @Mari-LouA - Job - /dʒəʊb/, job = /dʒɒb/. August (the month or proper name) = /ˈɔːɡəst/, august = /ɔːˈɡʌst/. Leastaways, these are the way I say them (and the OED). – Dan Jan 15 '16 at 11:57
  • 4
    I was thinking of Steve Jobs, and that Job was a variation of the same surname. Instead it's the prophet Job, which is pronounced as if it were written "Jobe". Now, I get it. Duh! – Mari-Lou A Jan 15 '16 at 12:39
  • 4
    Isn't it the case with all of these (except Polish/polish) that the capitalised version is pronounced differently as it is a name (almost always in another language), and so has taken the pronunciation of the other language (or an archaic form of the same)? "Nice" the place in France, is not an example of a word in the English language. Polish/polish is the only case where neither is a proper noun, and I don't know anyone who'd pronounce August and august differently (Except @Dan, clearly! Must be an accent thing). – Ieuan Stanley Jan 15 '16 at 16:32
17

Capitonym

A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized; the capitalization usually applies due to one form being a proper noun or eponym.1 It is a portmanteau of the word capital with the suffix -onym. A capitonym is a form of homograph and – when the two forms are pronounced differently – also of heteronym.

The following words are also pronounced differently.

Bologna: A city in Italy    bologna: a processed meat 
Ares: god of war            ares: plural of are, a metric unit of area
August: the eighth          august: majestic or venerable
        month of the year   


A heteronym (also known as a heterophone) is a word that is written identically but has a different pronunciation and meaning. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row (propel with oars) and row (argument) are heteronyms, but mean (intend) and mean (average) are not (since they are pronounced the same). Heteronym pronunciation may vary in vowel realisation, in stress pattern (see also Initial-stress-derived noun), or in other ways:

A few examples taken from the Wikipedia page:

  1. They were too close to the door to close it.
  2. Don't desert me here in the desert!
  3. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
  5. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

The term English is similar to Polish in that it too can be spelled with or without a capital letter, but it is not a heteronym because its pronunciation remains identical. When a word differs in meaning, but its pronunciation doesn't change, it is called a homophone

  • The English billiard player put more english on the ball

English
5. also english
a. The spin given to a propelled ball by striking it on one side or releasing it with a sharp twist.
b. Bodily movement in an effort to influence the movement of a propelled object; body English.

Anther example is Pole (a Polish person) pole (another name for rod) and the verb to pole

  • The Pole used a pole in order to pole upstream.
  • I (non-native English speaker) never realized the "s" in the verb "close" should be pronounced differently than the "s" in the noun "close". But for some reason, the "s" in the word "closer" is obviously different from the "s" in the word "closing". Good to have learned something here. – Pakk Jan 15 '16 at 14:40
  • 1
    You could add an archaic unit of length to the last example: "The Pole used a pole to pole a pole upstream" (not a very long journey: 5 1/2 yards) – TripeHound Jan 15 '16 at 15:10
  • @Mari-Lou A : Although, according to the link, a "capitonym" isn't necessarily a homograph, it does say that capitonyms include both heteronyms and homographs. Nevertheless, I love this answer. I'd never heard of a "capitonym." – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 16:25
  • 1
    @Pakk: "closer" can be pronounced both ways. "closer" as in more close, and "closer" as in one who closes. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jan 15 '16 at 21:45
  • There is also refuse (verb) and refuse (noun meaning trash) – Ross Millikan Jan 16 '16 at 19:17
9

Yes, such a word is called a "homograph." Aside from "Polish" and "polish," another exemplar homograph is "wind" (blowing air) and "wind" (what you do to watch).

If you are looking for another word where the initial capital letter is the all-important factor, then consider:

Moped (motorized bicycle by Honda)

and

moped (preterit tense of the verb "to mope")

Before it became a common noun, the proper noun "Moped" was a portmanteau formed by Honda to market its motorized bicycle.

Any such initial capital letter difference is going to have to involve a word that is considered proper like this, like Polish.

  • +1). Are there only two in English? – user140086 Jan 15 '16 at 9:06
  • 1
    No, heterographs, on the contrary, are the words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, like ewe - you. What you meant, Benjamin, are homographs, and there are hundreds of them, not just of the type sow (plant) - sow (pig), but a much more numerous category of – slava bakis Jan 15 '16 at 9:07
  • 1
    @Rathony : Thanks for the +1. There are a lot more than two: lead (the metal) and lead (the verb: to direct); affect (the verb: to influence) and affect (a set of mannerisms); pervert (the verb: to affect with deviance) and pervert (a person who is sexually perverted, sexually immoral). Those are just off the top of my head. I imagine there are hundreds, maybe thousands. – Benjamin Harman Jan 15 '16 at 10:55
  • 3
    The two "wind" examples do not differ by initial capitalisation as required by the questioner. – abligh Jan 15 '16 at 11:12
  • 3
    "moped" the vehicle is not a trademark AFAIK, and is certainly used, lower-case, in common media. – Carl Witthoft Jan 15 '16 at 17:44
3

There is no generalized rule in English about capital letters changing pronunciation. What you have observed are incidental cases where a capital letter allows you to distinguish between a proper noun (or derivative) and another word with a different meaning and/or pronunciation (and typically origin) that happens to have the same spelling.

  • As in my "Polish the ornament" example ... it has a capital letter but is pronounced differently than "Polish is a language". – TripeHound Jan 15 '16 at 18:45
0

Inquisitive words are sometimes pronounced differently. "Where is the post office?" vs. "The keys were right where I left them."

  • Do you mean interrogative words? Or just where? Where is often aspirated and were never is, so this isn't a clean example. – deadrat Jan 16 '16 at 5:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.