Contranyms: a word with two opposing meanings

Previously, I published a (still growing) list of bound root morphemes. In the same spirit, I’d like to make the world aware of contranyms. A contranym is a word with two opposite meanings. For example:

weather (to decay): the wood had been weathered to the point that it would no longer hold any weight.

weather (to endure): we, too, shall weather this storm and look forward to better days ahead.

buckle (to fasten): with his belt securely buckled, John’s pants weren’t about to go anywhere fast.

buckle (to collapse): the iron beam began to buckle after the engineers shifted the weight of the truss to the north side of the platform.

oversight (to monitor): the committee’s responsibilities included oversight of the annual budget.

oversight (to fail to notice): due to an oversight, the project took months longer than expected.

dust (to remove dust): the maid dusted the windowsill, which had become quite dirty.

dust (to add dust): the chef dusted the cake with cocoa powder.

left (to remain): the only people left at this party are my very good friends

left (to leave): the only people who left this party were my very good friends

sanction (to punish): the government imposed trade sanctions on the international market

sanction (to promote): this activity is sanctioned by our national organization


Can you determine the oppositions of the following contranyms: 

  • bound
  • custom
  • clip
  • cut
  • citation
  • fast

There are hundreds of contranyms in our language. Some are interesting, some are not. Some require a shift in their speech part (“skin” is a noun that means a covering, while “skin” is a verb that means uncovering), while others require a little bit of modification (to resign is to quit, but to re-sign is to sign up again).

If you can think of others (without relying on internet searches), send them my way!



10 responses to “Contranyms: a word with two opposing meanings

  1. About time you updated this thing. Great post!

  2. cleave : to split … or to join

  3. Asperse – to sprinkle with Holy water.
    Asperse – to attack with evil (esp. false) charges.

  4. I see this was posted LONG time ago… But I looove this! A radio show called “A Way with Words” did a podcast on this a couple months ago!

  5. it s finished i don t care how long it was posted

  6. appropriate = verb: set aside for; take away from

  7. Would you call contranyms a paradox in the strictest sense?

  8. tangle-to untangle, to befuddle(tangle)

  9. spare – excess, or sparse.

  10. I’m really loving the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems? A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Firefox. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this problem?

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