Longest possible homonym/homograph chain

(No idea if this is the right forum for this thread… GQ? Thread games?)
So in English, there are some sets of words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. (For instance, “right” and “write”). These are called homonyms.

There are also words that are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. (For instance, “lead” the metal and “lead” the verb). These are called homographs.
What I’m asking for is a chain that strictly alternates between homonyms and homographs (and in which none of the homonyms are homographs, or vice versa).

The best I’ve done is two different chains of four:

Bough (tree branch)
Bow (at the end of a play)
Bow (violin-playing tool)
Beau (sweetheart)
Reed (plant)
Read (present tense)
Read (past tense)
Red (color)
Can anyone do better?

(It would also be neat to make a loop which ends up where it started.)

To your second list you could start with rede, which has a variety of meanings including counsel and rule. Unfortunately it’s just one syllable so you can’t also have words like ready.

And you could replace “red” in the second list with “redd”, which is a verb meaning to clean or tidy, as in “I need to redd up the house before company comes over”. I’m not sure if it’s used outside of Appalachian dialects, though.

Other than that, the best I can come up with is the three-chain base (foundation)-bass (low-pitched)-bass (fish). But I can’t think of any other words spelled like the foundation word or pronounced like the fish (there are a number of meanings for “base”, but they’re all pronounced the same, and have related meanings)

Air (breathable gas) (or possibly “err”, “ere”, “e’er”, or “heir”, but I’m not sure any of these help)
Are (metric unit equal to 100 square meters)
Are (plural of “is”)

You might be able to go beyond “are”, but it’s debatable: Is “Arr” (a pirate’s interjection) a word? Is “our” pronounced the same as “are”?

EDIT: Wait, pluralize those.
Ares (god of war)
Aries (zodiacal ram)



And it means to save or rescue someone, especially from fire.

It’s also the name given to the spawning bed a salmon makes and to spawn of fish and frogs.

Point of order: more accurate terminology to distinguish the two things you are looking for might be homophone subset heterograph vs homograph subset heterophone.

I don’t think homonym is appropriate, because it seems to have variable definitions, perhaps most commonly words that are both homophones and homographs.


Homophones are pronounced the same but may also be spelled the same; Wikipedia suggests heterograph for the subset of homophones that are spelled differently, which seems logical.

Homographs have the same spelling but (according to some definitions) may also be pronounced identically; heteronym/heterophone more clearly distinguishes the subset of homographs that are pronounced differently.

wined (… and dined)
Wind (twist)
Wind (blowing weather)
Winned (The Red Sox done went and winned the World Series)

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatically correct sentence in American English, often presented as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs through lexical ambiguity. It has been discussed in literature in various forms since 1967, when it appeared in Dmitri Borgmann’s Beyond Language: Adventures in Word and Thought.

So sayeth Wiki.

Sure, but that’s still only four words total, because rede->reed->read are all what I was referring to as homonyms (perhaps imprecisely), and the chain needs to go homonym-homograph-homonym-homograph etc.

Let’s play with this:

rhos (Greek letters)
rose (flower)
rose (got up)
rows (fights)
rows (lines)
roes (multiple examples of fish eggs)
roes (multiple examples of a type of deer)

Can’t think of that kind of train, but here’s an opposite train.

brought left right wrong

Nice, but your homographs are not pronounced differently per OP’s stipulation. There words are all pronounced the same… except rows (fights) which then doesn’t work because it’s not a homophone with rose?

ftg’s efforrt does inspire the closest attempt I can make at a chain of 5 though, if you’ll forgive an acute accent:

rouse (to awaken)
rows (altercations)
rows (lines)
rose (flower)
rosé (wine)

Ok, I think I have a chain of 6:

tare (weed)
tear (rip)
tear (teardrop)
tier (layer)
tier (one who ties)
tire (on a wheel)

ETA: those work in my British dialect, I think they work in U.S. too?

Are words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently called heterophonic homographs or homographic heterophones?

Definitely the former; or just heterophone for short, with homograph implied. If it does not have the primary homo- characteristic, then there’s nothing exceptional about it in the first place.

Not homophones.

Also means load.

Good one but if you want British English your last tire should be tyre; fortunately you can use tire as in someone who is exhausted instead.

In Canada with two official languages and exploiting the silent terminal ‘s’, we can extend that list into a long loop: