Here are words in English that also mean the opposite of what they really mean.

English is a pretty dang confusing language. Nonetheless. Native speakers even have a problem identifying that certain words contradict themselves. More on that later. You learned in school about these three kinds of words: antonyms (words opposite in meaning), homonyms (words having similar pronunciation), and synonyms (words similar in meaning). If you think that was all English had to offer, then meet their fourth cousin who’s even weirder than you thought. Ever heard of contronyms? We bet you’ll hate yourself later.

Related media: What Are Contronyms?

What Are Contronyms?

Crash course: Contronyms, also known as an auto-antonyms, are words with two meanings that happen to be the opposite of each other. According to Grammarly“a contronym is a word with a homonym (another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that is also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning).”

Technically, some grammarians say these are homographs — homonyms that are pronounced the same. But if they’re pronounced differently, they’re heteronyms. Confused? We are. Let’s leave that for the geeks later. Contronyms are like a two-double-edged sword, but both sides do completely opposite things. Let’s say one side cuts while the other mends. Kinda!

Here are 30 contronyms, and their contradictory definitions, alphabetically.

The First Ten

#1. Bolt, verb.

This could either mean to separate by fleeing; or hold or fasten together (as with a bolt).

#2. Bound, verb.

This could either mean going towards a destination; or being restricted to move.

#3. Buckle, verb.

This could either mean fastening together (with a buckle); or bending or collapsing from pressure.

#4. Cleave, verb.

This could either mean to adhere firmly and closely; or split apart.

#5. Clip, verb.

This could either mean fastening together (as with a paperclip); or detaching with shears (clipping your hair).

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#6. Consult, verb.

This could either mean to give advice; or seek advice.

#7. Custom, verb.

This could either mean a common practice; or something specifically made.

#8. Dust, verb.

This could either mean covering something with a fine power; or cleaning something by brushing or removing dust.

#9. Enjoin, verb.

This could either mean ordering someone to do something; or prohibiting someone from doing something.

#10. Fast, verb.

This could either mean firmly fixed and unmoving; or being able to move rapidly.

The Next Ten

#11. Finished, verb.

This could either mean to be completed; or destroyed.

#12. Garnish, verb.

This could either mean to add finishing touches or spicing (to food or drink); or to take/withhold from (as in wages).

#13. Handicap, verb.

This could either mean an advantage given to equalizing chances of winning (as in golf); or a disadvantage that makes equality difficult.

#14. Lease, verb.

This could either mean to rent property; or offer property for rent.

#15. Left, noun.

This could either mean departure; or remaining behind.

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#16. Model, verb.

This could either mean the original, perfect example; or a copy or duplicate.

#17. Off, verb.

This could either mean not operating (turn off the light); or operating (the alarm went off).

#18. Out, verb.

This could either mean visible (the stars are out); or invisible (the lights are out).

#19. Overlook, verb.

This could either mean to watch; or fail to notice.

#20. Oversight, verb.

This could either mean watchful, responsible care; or a mistake made due to forgetfulness or poor supervision.

The Last Ten

#21. Peruse, verb.

This could either mean skimming; or reading very carefully.

#22. Ravel, verb.

This could either mean to separate; or become entangled.

#23. Rent, verb.

This could either mean to lease something; or offer something for lease.

#24. Sanction, verb.

This could either mean to boycott; or approve.

#25. Screen, noun.

This could either mean to hide; or show (like a movie).

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#26. Seed, verb.

This could either mean adding seed (seeding the lawn); or removing seed (seeding a watermelon).

#27. Strike, verb.

This could either mean to hit; or miss while trying to hit.

#28. Trim, verb.

This could either mean adding decorations; or taking away (extra hair or fabric).

#29. Wear, verb.

This could either mean to endure; or deteriorate.

#30. Weather, verb.

This could either mean to withstand; or be worn away.

Have you ever used any of these words before? Of course!

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Fri, May 06, 2022.


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