Contronyms are words that are their own antonyms – a word that is contradictory or can have an opposite meaning. Here are 10 popular such words.
- Help means ‘assist,’ unless you can’t help doing something, when it means ‘prevent.’
- Left can mean either remaining or departed. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? Well, the gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.
- Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in “to turn off,” but also ‘activated,’ as in “The alarm went off.”
- Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in “The company weathered the recession,” or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: “The rock was weathered.”
- Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ (an unsightly view).
- Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, “oversee” and “overlook.” “Oversee” is Old English for ‘look at from above,’ which means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin for the same thing: super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’) “Overlook” usually means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’
- Dust (along with the next two words) is a noun turned into a verb meaning either “to add” or “to remove” the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
- Seed: If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.
- Stone: You can stone some peaches, but don’t stone your neighbor.
- Fast can mean “moving rapidly,” as in “running fast,” or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in “holding fast.” If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first. The adverb took on the sense ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly,’ a meaning that spread to the adjective.
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You can find a list of 75 contronyms on this post in Daily Writing Tips.
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