Heterographs: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will look at heterographs. Heterographs are words that sound the same as other words, but they are spelled differently and have different meanings.


Heterographs are words that sound the same as other words, but they have different spellings and different meanings. For the English language learner or for young students, these words can be very confusing. There are 335 heterographs in the English language. Learning to recognize the differences between heterographs is critical to understanding the English language.

A Brief History

Before the 16th century ended, people spelled heterographs randomly. One day, a person might spell a word one way, and then spell it another way on a different day. There was no standardized spelling. But we primarily have Samuel Johnson, who created the Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, to thank for giving us a baseline for spelling heterographs differently from one another.


Now let's look at a few examples of heterographs. For instance, take the words 'to, too, and two.' They all sound the same, but we can see the differences in spelling. The meanings differ, as well. For instance, we would use the words in the following ways:

'I went to the store.'

'You come, too!'

'I saw two monkeys.'

The words 'there, their, and they're' are also commonly used heterographs. We would use the words in the following way:

'There goes the runner!'

'Their dog bit me!'

'They're (or they are) my cousins.'

Spelling Problems

For both young students and English Language Learners, it can be very difficult to spell heterographs correctly. It really takes practice and memorization to learn the differences between the words and use them correctly in writing.

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