Any language is a constantly changing system, and one of the unique aspects of the English language is how some words can be both nouns and verbs. Although they may look the same in writing, some words have different meanings and pronunciation patterns. A homonym is a word that shares the same spelling and, sometimes, the same pronunciation with another word, but it has a different meaning. In the case of noun-verb stress patterns, the words are identical, such as the noun ‘a record’ and the verb to ‘record’, but clearly they are different parts of speech; that is they belong to different word classes and function differently within a sentence.

Did you notice as you read these that you pronounced the verb and the noun differently? In the noun record, the stress falls on the first syllable. For the verb record, the stress falls on the second syllable. While the noun record generally refers to a physical or digital medium that stores information, the verb record typically refers to the act of capturing or documenting information. The relationship between these words is clear, they are both connected to information storage.

However, not all noun-verb pairs share a root meaning. As you will learn from this article, it is often the case that when the stressed syllable is the same for the noun and the verb, such as to look in a mirror (noun) or to mirror an action (verb) the meaning is close or identical, only the function of the word is altered, but when the stress shifts to another syllable, the meaning is often quite different too.

This is a recurring phenomenon in many English words, and this distinction is more noticeable in UK English compared to American English.

For more on parts of speech such as nouns and verbs, please visit this post.

image of stress

An example of noun-verb stress variation

To understand this phenomenon better, let’s take a closer look at another well-known example:

The words progress and progress. These words are also homonyms, specifically homographs; they are spelled the same but can have a different pronunciation.

When progress is used as a verb, the stress falls on the second syllable, as with the verb ‘to record’:

  • He progresses quickly.

When progress is used as a noun, the stress pattern shifts to the first syllable to reflect this distinction:

  • The progress of his work is impressive.

A note on adjective homographs

Not only verbs and nouns, but also adjectives can have homographs with nouns, verbs or both.

Many homographs are also adjectives. In contrast to the noun and verb stresses, the adjective stress appears to be random, sometimes the first syllable and sometimes the second; but it has simply moved to whichever stress is available depending on whether its homograph is a noun or a verb. In cases where there is an adjective homograph of both a noun and a verb, the adjective typically shares the stress of the homograph it most closely resembles in meaning.

UK vs. US English

The distinction between noun and verb stress is more prominent in UK English compared to US English. In American English, the pronunciation stresses tend to be more consistent, with both the noun and verb forms often placing the stress on the second syllable. However, in UK English the contrasts between noun and verb forms, or other forms, are more pronounced. Where UK English speakers tend to emphasise the first syllable for nouns and the second syllable for verbs, American English speakers frequently maintain a consistent stress pattern for both noun and verb forms.

A list of further examples

Below are examples of different word-class homographs with their stressed syllables underlined. Notice that the noun stress always appears on the first syllable, whereas the verb stress always moves to the second:

Record (noun) = a piece of information or a description of an event that is written on paper or stored on a computer, or a flat plastic disc on which music is recorded

Record (verb) = store sounds or moving pictures using electronic equipment so that they can be heard or seen later

Permit (noun) = an official document that allows you to do something or go somewhere

Permit (verb) = to allow something

Content (noun) = the ideas that are contained in a piece of writing, a speech, or a film, or an item or container

Content (adjective) = pleased with your situation and not hoping for change or improvement

Progress (noun) = movement to an improved or more developed state, or to a forward position

Progress (verb) = to improve or develop in skills, knowledge, etc.

Object (noun) = a thing that you can see or touch but that is not usually a living animal, plant, or person

Object (verb) = to feel or express opposition to or dislike of something or someone

Present (noun) = something that you are given, without asking for it, on a special occasion, especially to show friendship, or to say thank you

Present (verb) = to give, provide, or make something known

Invalid (noun) = someone who is sick and unable to take care of himself or herself, especially for a long time

Invalid (adjective) = An invalid document, ticket, law, etc. is not legally or officially acceptable

Produce (noun) = food or any other substance or material that is grown or obtained through farming

Produce (verb) = to make something or bring something into existence

Subject (noun) = the thing that is being discussed, considered, or studied

Subject (verb) = to defeat people or a country and then control them against their wishes and limit their freedom

Attribute (noun) = a quality or characteristic that someone or something has

Attribute (verb) = to say or think that something is the result of a particular thing

Compact (adjective) = consisting of parts that are positioned together closely or in a tidy way, using very little space

Compact (verb) = to press something together in a tight and solid way

Minute (noun) = one of the sixty parts that an hour is divided into, consisting of sixty seconds

Minute (adjective) = extremely small

Project (noun) = a piece of planned work or an activity that is finished over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose

Project (verb) = to calculate an amount or number expected in the future from information already known

Entrance (noun) = a door, gate, etc. by which you can enter a building or place

Entrance (verb) = Someone or something that entrances you is so beautiful or interesting that you cannot stop listening to or watching

Refuse (noun) = unwanted waste material

Refuse (verb) = to say that you will not do or accept something

Meanings taken from the Cambridge Online Dictionary.

This list is not exhaustive.

Notice also that while some pairs of words such as ‘record’, ‘produce’ and ‘compact’ are very close in meaning in both their forms, other word pairs such as ‘content’, ‘object’, ‘refuse’ and ‘minute’ have entirely different meanings according to their word class.

Musicality and meaning

The differences in stress patterns between noun and verb or other forms of a word influences the overall musicality of the English language. While the homographs listed above have two or three syllables, there are many one syllable homographs in English and, because they cannot shift their stress, they change pronunciation when they change from verb to noun or other word class:

A bow (noun) that one wears

To bow (verb) to show good manners

A close encounter (adjective) as opposed to distant

To close (verb) the door

A tear (noun) that one sheds when emotional

To tear (verb) something apart

Some lead (noun) that heavy metal

To lead (verb) the way

A sow (noun) a female pig

To sow (verb) seed in a field

A use (noun) Is there any use in complaining?

To use (verb) or overuse one’s brain

Historical reasons why words share spellings

When a verb and a noun are spelled the same in a language, it can be due to a variety of historical and linguistic reasons. In some cases, it may be because the verb and noun historically shared the same root and meaning, but over time, they developed different grammatical roles. Semantic shifts occur over time, a word’s meaning can change in nuances and sometimes drastically over periods of centuries, leading to the development of noun and verb forms that share the same spelling but have different meanings.

Historically, some verbs and nouns started as the same word with the same meaning, but over time, their grammatical functions or contextual usage diverged. For example, ‘run’ can be both a verb (to run) and a noun (a run). In the same way, in the last century, many nouns have begun to be used as verbs such as ‘to bookmark’ or ‘to action’.

However, word imports from further back in our linguistic history that were borrowed (or better said taken) from other languages, due to contact through invasion or commerce, retained their spellings and may be used as both a noun and a verb, and often an adjective. These borrowed words often maintain their original form. For example, ‘resume’ is a French word meaning both ‘summary’ (noun) and ‘to continue’ (verb).

Occasionally, a language may have words that coincidentally have the same spelling but different meanings, as with some of the examples shown above. These homonyms may not have a historical connection and are simply the result of linguistic chance because of the ways in which pronunciations and spellings have individually evolved. The language has undergone continual and vast changes since the beginnings of Old English in 450AD and these noun-verb pairs are a symptom of this process.

Verb-noun pairs

Some verbs and nouns are intentionally formed to share the same spelling and these are still being added to the language in the present day. These are called verb-noun pairs. In this case, the noun represents the action or result of its identical verb. For example, ‘to jump’ (verb) and ‘a jump’ (noun).

Here is a list of further examples of verb-noun pairs whose meanings are shared and whose stresses are identical:

Noun                Verb

Report               Report

Factor                Factor

Notice               Notice

Mirror                Mirror

Exhaust              Exhaust

Display               Display

Impact                Impact

Focus                  Focus

Signal                 Signal


The alternation in stress patterns of different parts of speech, for what would otherwise be identical words, helps listeners discern the intended meaning of a word. This is especially important when those words have different meanings in spite of sharing their appearance. Shifting the stress to another syllable emphasises the difference in meaning of a word while sharing the same stressed syllable as a homograph of another part of speech emphasises the similarity in meaning.

This is yet another fascinating aspect of the complexities and peculiarities of English. There are many such subtle patterns within the English language, although the diverse national and regional accents and dialects do also create some variance in its use.

If you have any queries or comments, please do enter them below.


Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Crystal, David. Spell it Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling (Profile Books, 2013)

Dreyer, Benjamin. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Penguin Random House, 2020)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

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