23 Contronym Examples That Show Some Words are Their own Opposites.

The English language never stops to amaze. Its grammar and vocabulary always reveal extraordinary linguistic patterns and quirks that very few other languages have. We have written numerous times about the craziness of the English language, why it has the features it does, and why it can be so confusing sometimes. Other times, English can be tricky, beware! It is filled with words that have contradictory meanings, or what is linguistically referred to as contronyms. They are words with two definitions that contradict each other. Here is a list of contronym examples that are common in English.


1st meaning: to hit or deliver a blow.

2nd meaning: to miss while trying to hit (baseball).


1st meaning: to remove branches from a tree.

2nd meaning: to add branches and decorations to a Christmas tree.


1st meaning: to add seeds to the grass.

2nd meaning: to remove seeds from a fruit, like in seeding a watermelon.

Contronyms, also known as “Janus words” or “autoantonyms,” are intriguing linguistic phenomena in the English language. These words possess contradictory meanings, with one word serving as its own antonym, depending on the context in which it is used. A classic example is “cleave,” which can mean both “to adhere closely” and “to split apart.” Other contronym examples include “sanction,” which can signify both “to approve or authorize” and “to impose a penalty or restriction.” These linguistic oddities challenge our understanding of language and remind us of the complexities and nuances within the English vocabulary.


1st meaning: to be bound for something is to move towards it with determination.

2nd meaning: to be bound by something is to be limited or restricted by something.


1st meaning: moving quickly.

2nd meaning: firmly fixed or attached to one place. E.g. the roots are fast in the ground.


1st meaning: to withstand or endure. E.g. weather a storm.

2nd meaning: worn down. E.g. the rock is weathered.


1st meaning: to seek advice. E.g. consult a doctor for instruction.

2nd meaning: to give advice. E.g. a consultant issues guidance.


1st meaning: common practice or tradition shared by many people.

2nd meaning: a unique item such as a custom-made blouse.


1st meaning: to sprinkle a fine powder over something.

2nd meaning: to clean an object or surface by brushing away the dust.


1st meaning: completed. E.g. the project is finally finished.

2nd meaning: destroyed. E.g. I’m finished.


1st meaning: Visible. E.g. the stars are out.

2nd meaning: not working, or invisible. E.g. the lights are out.


1st meaning: monitor or supervise. E.g. he was overlooking his harvest men.

2nd meaning: neglect or fail to notice. E.g. she seems to have overlooked one important fact.


1st meaning: Someone or something that is remaining. E.g. Who’s left?

2nd meaning: Someone or something that has departed. E.g. He left.


1st meaning: to quit.

2nd meaning: to sign up again.


1st meaning: to suggest something, as in “toss out an idea”.

2nd meaning: to dispose of something.


1st meaning: to formally give permission for something, usually by a government.

2nd meaning: impose a ban on someone after violating the rules.


1st meaning: supervision.

2nd meaning: to ignore or pass over without noticing.


1st meaning: to remove the stones from a fruit.

2nd meaning: to throw stones at someone or something.


1st meaning: to cling to or adhere.

2nd meaning: to split or sever something.


1st meaning: not functioning. E.g. turn off the T.V.

2nd meaning: functioning. E.g. the alarm went off.


1st meaning: to hide. E.g. a screen of fog.

2nd meaning: to show. E.g. to screen a movie.


1st meaning: to assist someone in something.

2nd meaning: to prevent, as in you can’t help doing something.


1st meaning: to proceed.

2nd meaning: to give out or fail. E.g. my car started to go.

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