I came up with this riddle a few years ago, and so far very few people have been able to solve it:

Think of a four-letter word (“_ _ _ _”) such that adding an A to the beginning (“a _ _ _ _”) changes the meaning but not the pronunciation. (It's a normal word that I guarantee anyone with at least a middle-school education will have heard.)

If you answer, please use spoiler tags.

  • 2
    Wow, this is a good first riddle. I'm gonna be racking my brains over this one. – F1Krazy Nov 17 at 16:48
  • 1
    After thinking for some time, I got the solution that is mentioned in the first answer puzzling.stackexchange.com/a/75380/44626 . I do not know whether a redundant answer is OK, so I just wrote this comment. – neverMind9 Nov 18 at 19:10

I'll go with

isle - an island - which is pronounced the same as aisle - a walkway.

  • This depends on accent a fair bit. Around here, your first answer is pronounced as one syllable while your second is distinctly two. – Weckar E. Nov 17 at 18:59
  • Any fan of Piers Anthony's Xanth books should have gotten this very quickly. – Peregrine Rook Nov 19 at 7:33
  • I didn't even know this word, and I have a Proficiency in English. – gsamaras Nov 19 at 12:41

Perhaps another couple of solutions are

Iran, which when you add an "a" becomes airan, which, according to Webster's Third New International unabridged, is pronounced the same as one possible pronunciation of Iran, but means a Turkish drink made from fermented milk

And

Erie (the city) and aerie which can also be pronounced the same, but means a nest.

However, these are

capitalized words, so perhaps they don't quite fit. And though middle school students probably know Erie and Iran, and maybe even aerie, it is doubtful they know airan.

  • I'd argue that a "middle-school student" knows of either – MaxB Nov 18 at 9:48
  • 2
    Iran and ayran are pronounced differently (ihr-ahn vs aye-rahn). Also, it's ayran, not airan. – Rand al'Thor Nov 18 at 17:18
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor: Please don't quote solutions in comments without obfuscating them.   :-)   ⁠ – Peregrine Rook Nov 19 at 7:32
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor It can be spelled with i, but I agree the pronunciation is different. For one, the milk product has stress on the first syllable, the country on the last. – jafe Nov 19 at 10:23

Probably not this, but worth writing down:

Aron and Aaron are names, referring to different people but pronounced the same.

I'd go with Tom's answer, but would like to mention another possibility, which is

Ide - a freshwater fish.

Which of course yields

Aide

As the other word. Neither is one that would necessarily be known by everyone though.

  • 3
    Your word is only three letters instead of four. – ralphmerridew Nov 19 at 2:36
  • @ralphmerridew dammit can't imagine how I made that mistake. You can of course use plural to make it four letters but that would be an even bigger stretch – Gnudiff Nov 19 at 6:23
  • 1
    (1) I don't recall ever hearing of your three-letter word, and I'm a college graduate with a fairly large vocabulary. The question says "anyone with at least a middle-school education will have heard" of these words.  (2) Also, do you claim that your two words are pronounced the same, as required by the question? None of the resources I found indicated that. – Peregrine Rook Nov 19 at 7:27

I believe this wasn't covered yet:

long (/lôNG,läNG/): distance/lasting.
along (/əˈlôNG,əˈläNG/): together/accompany.

and

rose (/rōz/): flower.
arose (/əˈrōz/): emerge.

Updated:

iris [aɪrɪs]: the round coloured part that surrounds the pupil of your eye.
airis [āīɾis]: oar, paddle (an instrument for rowing a boat).

  • 3
    I believe the condition that the pronunciation doesn't change after prepending a applies to the whole words ("????" and "A????"), not just the last four letters. – humfuzz Nov 19 at 10:29
  • I might've misinterpreted it then since it wasn't implicitly stated the "whole words" but "changes the meaning but not the pronunciation". So I assume it was only the original four letter. – Mukyuu Nov 19 at 10:31

What about

rise
arise

... must have 30 chars.

  • 3
    I don't think this works because of the condition: "adding an A to the beginning changes the meaning but not the pronunciation". – Laurel Nov 19 at 2:31
  • Welcome to Puzzling.SE! – SteveV Nov 19 at 2:42
  • Ah nevermind, I misread that part. – pxe Nov 19 at 2:59

aaah $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $

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