Are there any heteronyms in English with different hyphenation patterns for line breaking? That is, is there any sequence of letters which can be interpreted as two different words with different pronunciations such that it would be generally considered appropriate to hyphenate at a particular point for line breaking only if one of the words was meant, not the other?

I’ve scanned through lists of heteronyms, but nothing’s popped out. As far as I know there are no reference works which address this question. The underlying question, I suppose, is whether it’s always possible to hyphenate purely mechanically, with a dictionary of hyphenations and without considering context.

Example from a comment: Suppose there were some word frochouse, which would be pronounced "fro-SHOOS" and could be hyphenated as fro-chouse, and another word frochouse which would be pronounced "FROCK-hows" and could be hyphenated as froc-house. That would be an example, if not for the fact that both are made-up words.

  • 1
    The difference between resign and re-sign?
    – Henry
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:10
  • I'm not sure I agree with it, but Merriam-Webster says you can hyphenate resign (relegate, give up) after "re". So it wouldn't count?
    – Stuart F
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:27
  • @Henry re-sign can be hyphenated in the same way as resign (and vice versa).
    – Sneftel
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:33
  • There is a distinction between hyphenation at the end of a line to break words for layout purposes and general hyphenation to indicate meaning and pronunciation.
    – Henry
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:39
  • @Henry good point, I’m specifically focusing on hyphenation for line-breaking purposes.
    – Sneftel
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


refuse the verb breaks as re-fuse.
refuse the noun breaks as ref-use.

attribute the verb breaks as at-trib-​ute.
attribute the noun breaks as at-​tri-bute.

resume the verb breaks as re-sume.
resume the noun breaks as re-su-me.

sake the beverage breaks as sa-ke.
The other sakes can’t break.

Source: Merriam Webster—refuse

Here are a few more:

crooked the adjective breaks as crook-ed.
crooked the verb can’t break.

wicked the adjective breaks as wick-ed.
wicked the verb can’t break.

dogged the adjective breaks as dog-ged.
dogged the verb can’t break.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

So, no, without context, you can’t decide where or if to break.

  • 1
    Goodness, I really wasn't expecting there to be so many examples. My powers of brainstorming are clearly not what they once were. ;-) The -ed pattern is interesting, and "refuse" is particularly interesting given the shared etymology and not being a loan-word.
    – Sneftel
    Nov 17, 2023 at 17:26
  • Just added another; I’m sure there are more! Nov 17, 2023 at 17:32
  • A few more in here: grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/04/snappy-endings.html Nov 17, 2023 at 18:18

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