Is there a technical term for words that have the same phonemes but are distinguished by syllabic emphasis?

E.g., abstract is æb-strækt, but emphasis on the first syllable is a different word from emphasis on the same syllable. Other examples: permit, convict. (Offhand it seems I can only think of words that are related in meaning, but I suspect there are examples of unrelated words. ETA: Found one: present.)

(I see that heteronym refers to words with the same spelling, but those can have different pronunciations, and I'm asking about the spoken word, without regard to spelling.)

  • Many two-syllable nouns in English have homophones that are verbs and are stressed differently. Some American English dialects (the so-called "POlice UMbrella" lects) have a tendency to stress two-syllable nouns on the first syllable, like CIGarette or INsurance, whether they are deverbal or not.
    – jlawler
    Nov 15, 2021 at 21:28
  • 3
    Present the verb and present the noun are related too, though perhaps not as closely, semantically, as many other such pairs. Nov 15, 2021 at 22:11
  • 1
    In relation to your addition about heteronyms, words like these are usually homographs, that is, words that are spelt the same but pronounced differently. It’s a highly productive process in English to form noun/verb pairs in this way, and the resulting pair are virtually always spelt the same. Homographness is not, however, based on stress – it can be any difference in pronunciation, like different number of syllables ([for someone’s] sake vs [Japanese] sake) or different vowel qualities ([the] wind vs wind [a clock]). Nov 17, 2021 at 1:34

2 Answers 2


These words are a subset of minimal pairs. A minimal pair is a pair of words (perceived by speakers as different) distinguished solely by some salient feature (in this case stress location).

I would describe these words as English minimal pairs for stress location. It's not a snappy name, but it is an accurate description of what they are.


The best term to name those words is homophones. The reason for this term to be suitable for what you are looking for is that it is made up of homo- “same” and phone “sound”, there is nothing related to writing in the name. And secondly, and more important, it is the term homophones that is used in Chinese to refer to words having the same phonemes, but different phonemic tones which are analogous to what you call ‘syllabic emphasis’ — a suprasegmental feature distinguishing otherwise identical strings of phonemes: (妈) "mother", (麻) "hemp", mă (马) "horse", mà (骂) "scold", and ma (吗) “yes/no question particle” constitute a set of homophones. Polysyllabic homophones are also numerous in Chinese since the number of possible phonemic syllable shells in Mandarin is just a bit more than 400.

  • 3
    Syllables with the same phonemes but different tones are not usually called homophones in Mandarin in my experience. The Wikipedia article perhaps does this once with the term ‘homophonic syllables’ (though syllable does not necessarily include tone), but the other instances refer to actual homophones, including tone, which is the only way I’ve seen it used, and also how it’s usually defined in Chinese. Similarly, I would never call /ˈrekərd/ and /rɨˈkɔrd/ homophones in English since they’re made up of incompatible phonemes. Nov 17, 2021 at 1:30
  • 2
    words differing by stress position are emphatically not homophonous. I also agree with @JanusBahsJacquet that I've usually not heard Chinese words differing only in tone called homophonous by people with a linguistic education (although they often are by laypeople). One could potentially describe words that differ solely by tone or stress location as homophones sensu lato, but even then it seems stretching the definition more than is reasonable, even with the qualification that we're speaking in a broad sense
    – Tristan
    Nov 17, 2021 at 11:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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