This post will present you with four different types of word pairs that will hopefully help you understand the relationships between orthography (the spelling of a word), phonetics (its sound/pronunciation) and semantics (its meaning), an essential part of acquiring vocabulary without getting boggled by the quirks any natural language presents.
#1: In Portuguese, we call homographs ([os] homógrafos, ou [as] palavras homógrafas) to words who are spelled the same way, but have different meanings and pronunciations.
- [a] sede (headquarters): sˈɛ.dɨ vs. [a] sede (thirst): sˈe.dɨ
- [o] molho (bundle): mˈɔ.ʎu vs. [o] molho (sauce): mˈo.ʎu
- [a] colher (spoon): ku.ʎˈɛɾ vs. colher (to harvest, to reap, to gather): ku.ʎˈeɾ
- [o] acordo (agreement): ɐ.kˈoɾ.du vs. [eu] acordo (I wake up, 1st person singular, present indicative of acordar): ɐ.kˈɔɾ.du
- sobre (on, about, on top of): sˈo.bɾɨ vs. [que eu/ele/ela] sobre ([that I/he/she] remain/be left/be enough, present subjunctive of sobrar): sˈɔ.bɾɨ
Also of note are imperfect homographs, whose only graphic distinction is a different diacritic (while still having different pronunciations):
- [o] avô (grandfather): ɐ.vˈo vs. [a] avó (grandmother): ɐ.vˈɔ vs. [o] avo (in fractions, added to a denominator bigger than ten): ˈa.vu
- [a] maça (mace, a weapon): mˈa.sɐ vs. [a] maçã (apple): mɐ.sˈɐ̃
- [o] pé (foot): pˈɛ vs. [o] pê (the letter p): pˈe
#2: Homophones ([os] homófonos, ou [as] palavras homófonas) are words who are pronounced the same way, but have different meanings and spellings.
- [o] acento (accent mark, diacritic) vs. [o] assento (sitting place): ɐ.sˈẽ.tu
- [o] chá (tea) vs. [o] xá (shah): ʃˈa
- [o] aço (steel) vs. [eu] asso (I roast, from assar): ˈa.su
- [o] mural (mural) vs. [a] moral (moral, morals) / [o] moral (morale): mu.ɾˈaɫ
- sem (adv. without) vs. cem (num. “one hundred”): sˈɐ̃j
- cozer (to boil) vs. coser (to sew, to stitch): ku.zˈeɾ
#3: Homonyms ([os] homónimos, ou [as] palavras homónimas) are words who have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have different meanings.
- [o] rio (river) vs. [eu] rio (I laugh): ʀˈi.u
- [o] canto (corner; also singing; chant) vs. [eu] canto (I sing): kˈɐ̃.tu
- são (adj.m. healthy) vs. [elas/eles] são (They are): sˈɐ̃w
- como (adv. how, like, similar to) vs. como (conj. like, as; but also, as well as) vs. como? (interj. what? sorry? pardon?) vs. como (prep. as) vs. [eu] como (verb comer): kˈo.mu
#4: Paronyms ([os] parónimos, ou [as] palavras parónimas) are words who have similar spellings and pronunciations, and also have different meanings.
- [a] descrição (description): dɨʃ.kɾi.sˈɐ̃w vs. [a] discrição (discretion): diʃ.kɾi.sˈɐ̃w
- [o] comprimento (length): kõ.pɾi.mˈẽ.tu vs. [o] cumprimento (greeting; fulfillment): kũ.pɾi.mˈẽ.tu
- florescente (blooming, from [a] flor, flower): flu.ɾɨʃ.sˈẽ.tɨ vs. fluorescente (fluorescent): flwu.ɾɨʃ.sˈẽ.tɨ
- enformar (to give form to; to place in a mold): ẽ.foɾ.mˈaɾ vs. informar (to inform): ĩ.foɾ.mˈaɾ
These are words that are usually confused (even by natives) due to their similarities, so its important to have extra care when learning them; more than remembering these four groupings by name, you should be able to internalize the processes involved and come to expect certain similarities between words, while still being able to associate a certain word’s spelling and pronunciation with its right meaning.