Tag Archives: language

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!