'Tear' vs 'Tear': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on August 11, 2023

‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’: What’s the difference? You might be staring at this headline thinking there has to be a typo — but in fact, there is not. In an attempt to be the most confusing language, English has a few words that look the same but sound different, making them totally different words. How on earth are you supposed to tell the difference? That’s what we’re here for. 

In a hurry? Here’s a quick preview of what you’ll learn:

  • The first ‘Tear’ is a word that means to rip something apart forcefully
  • The second ‘Tear’ is a word that means a drop of water that falls from an eye

What’s the Difference Between ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’?

In many cases, the issue we have with words is that they are spelled differently but pronounced the same. Yet here, we have the opposite, which means we are dealing with homographs. 

  • Homographs are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. 

Some examples of homographs are: 

  • Lead (to go first) vs Lead (as in the metal)
  • Wind (as in a gust) vs Wind (to not go straight)
  • Bass (as in a guitar) vs Bass (the fish) 

Since these words are pronounced differently, they are easy to pick out when you hear them. But when you read them they can be trickier to discern. So how do you know which one you’re looking at? 

In the case of ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’, a big thing that will clue you in is the part of speech that the word belongs to. 

  • The first ‘Tear’ is primarily a verb because it describes the action of ripping.
  • Meanwhile, the second ‘Tear’ is primarily a noun because it refers to a thing, in this case, the water droplet.

This clue, of course, is dependent on context, but what if you don’t have any or are trying to use the word in your own work? Another hint is to use the pronunciations to your advantage. 

  • The first ‘Tear’ relies primarily on the “a” sound which can help you think of ‘action’ which is what verbs, like ‘Tear,’ are.
  • The second ‘Tear’ relies primarily on the “e” sound, which you can use to think of the “e” in the word ‘eye’ which is where tears come from.

All of this is a good place to start, but the basis of learning new words is learning what they mean individually. So, let’s take a closer look at ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’. 

Definition of the First ‘Tear’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, the first ‘Tear’ is a verb that means: 

  • Pull or rip something apart or to pieces with force 
    • “I tore up the letter.”
  • Remove by pulling or ripping forcefully
    • “He was tearing up the floorboards.”
  • Make a hole or split in something by pulling it or piercing it with a sharp implement
    • “She was always tearing her clothes.”
  • Come apart; rip
    • “The material wouldn’t tear.”
  • Damage a muscle or ligament by overstretching it
    • “He tore a ligament playing squash.”
  • Move very quickly in a reckless and informal manner
    • “She tore along the bike path.”
  • Be in a state of uncertainty between two conflicting parties.
    • “He was torn between chocolate and vanilla.”

As a noun, the first ‘Tear’ can also mean: 

  • A hole or split in something caused by it being pulled apart forcefully. 
    • “There was a tear in her dress.”
  • A brief spell of erratic or unrestrained behavior, a binge or a spree
    • “My buddies were in town, and we went on a tear.”
  • A spell of great success or excellence in performance
    • “He went on a tear, winning every hand.”

Synonyms of the First ‘Tear’

  • Rip
  • Cut
  • Mangle
  • Injure
  • Damage
  • Sever
  • Shred
  • Hole
  • Breach
  • Gash
  • Imperfection
  • Bender
  • Binge
  • Rush 

Antonyms of the First ‘Tear’

  • Attach
  • Fix
  • Combine
  • Join
  • Mend
  • Sew
  • Insert
  • Unite
  • Dawdle
  • Delay
  • Idle
  • Wait

Phrases with the First ‘Tear’

  • Tear a muscle
  • Tear away pants
  • Tear down
  • Tear around
  • Wear and tear 
  • Fix a tear

Definition of the Second ‘Tear’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, the second ‘Tear’ is a noun which means: 

  • A drop of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person’s eye when they cry or when the eye is irritated
    • “A tear rolled down her cheek.”
  • The state or action of crying 
    • “She was nearly in tears.”

As a verb, the second form of ‘Tear’ also means: 

  • (of the eye) to produce tears
    • “The freezing winds made her eyes tear.”

This version of ‘Tear’ comes from the Germanic root ‘zähre’, which comes from the same root as the Latin ‘dacruma’. This stems from the Old Latin lacrima’, which relates to the English word “lachrymose.” 

  • A fun fact and bonus word is the word ‘Lachrymose’ which is an adjective that means tearful or given to weeping; inducing tears. Words like this show that old roots can still be apparent in modern words and also show how words connect together. 

Synonyms of the Second ‘Tear’ 

  • Droplets 
  • Drops
  • Stream
  • Sobs
  • Bawls
  • Weeps 

Antonyms of the Second ‘Tear’

  • Dryness
  • Smile
  • Laugh
  • Giggle

Phrases with the Second ‘Tear’

  • Tear up
  • Get teary-eyed
  • Shed a tear
  • Tears of joy
  • Reduced to tears

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’

The tricky thing about homographs is their identical spelling, but what’s most helpful in keeping them apart in a conversation or presentation is the fact that they’re pronounced differently. Knowing how to properly say these words will help indicate to others what you are talking about. And, using the pronunciation tricks below, you’ll be able to keep these words straight in your head for when you encounter them while reading. 

Remember that the first ‘Tear’ relies more on the “a” sound. Use this phonetic spelling of the first ‘Tear’ as a guide: 

  • ‘T-air’ (with the second syllable pronounced like “air”)

Now recall that the second ‘Tear’ focuses more on the “e” sound. Use this phonetic spelling of the second ‘Tear’ as a guide.

  • ‘T-eer’ (with the second syllable pronounced like “here”)

How to Use ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’ in a Sentence

Given that ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’ is spelled exactly the same, when you don’t hear them out loud, they can be hard to tell apart. So, one of the biggest clues to rely on when reading these words is their surrounding context. Now that you’ve learned the definitions, you can take a look at how these words work in real-world scenarios, so you know where they might appear and how you can use them in the future. Below you’ll find some sample sentences to read over, and then you can try writing your own sentences as practice. 

The First ‘Tear’ Example Sentences

  • He was really upset to find a small tear in his favorite one-of-a-kind shirt. 
  • The new puppy would tear around the room after dinner, which his family called “The Zoomies.”
  • She was torn between which wedding dress to choose because they both suited her well. 
  • The material was designed not to tear even in harsh weather conditions. 
  • The boys had planned to go on quite the tear for the best friend's bachelor party. 

The Second ‘Tear’ Example Sentences

  • The actress was known for being able to tear up on command during a performance.
  • He thought the song was so beautiful that it reduced him to tears in the audience. 
  • Her tears stained the pillow as she cried in her bed. 
  • She cried tears of joy when her long-time boyfriend finally proposed to her during vacation. 

‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’ Example Sentences

  • She didn’t shed a tear even though she had a tear in her hamstring. 
  • After finding his dog tearing apart his shoes, he almost burst into tears

Final Advice on ‘Tear’ vs ‘Tear’

Words that look exactly the same but are pronounced differently may seem impossible and frustrating to tackle at first. But, if you break them down and tackle them in pieces, they are much easier to grasp. Plus, you just learned two meanings for the same spelling — call that two for the price of one. Remember that in cases like this, context clues are going to be your best friend, especially when reading. 

Want a review? Here’s a short recap of what was covered: 

  • The first ‘Tear’ is a verb that means to rip apart using force, 
  • Meanwhile, the second ‘Tear’ is a noun that refers to the drop of water that is released when we cry. 
  • Also, remember that homographs are words spelled the same but pronounced and defined differently. 

Interested in tackling more homographs? Check out other confusing words that will help you expand your vocabulary and get a better grasp on tricky words. You are totally capable of stepping up to the challenge when you work in stages like in this article.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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