Contronyms are special cases of homographs - two words with the same spelling. They’re unique in that the variations are antonyms.

Some examples:

  • anabasis – military advance/military retreat
  • apology – admission of fault in what you think, say, or do/formal defense of what you think, say, or do
  • aught – all/nothing
  • bolt – secure/run away
  • by – multiplication (a three by five matrix)/division (dividing eight by four)
  • chuffed – pleased/annoyed
  • cleave – separate/adhere
  • clip – fasten/detach
  • consult – ask for advice/give advice
  • copemate – partner/antagonist
  • custom – usual/special
  • deceptively smart – smarter than one appears/dumber than one appears
  • dike – wall/ditch
  • discursive – proceeding coherently from topic to topic/moving aimlessly from topic to topic
  • dollop – a large amount/a small amount
  • dust – add fine particles/remove fine particles
  • enjoin – prescribe/prohibit
  • fast – quick/unmoving
  • first degree – most severe (murder)/least severe (burn)
  • fix – restore/castrate
  • flog – criticize harshly,/promote aggressively
  • garnish – enhance (food)/curtail (wages)
  • give out – produce/stop production
  • grade – incline/level
  • handicap – advantage/disadvantage
  • help – assist/prevent (I can’t help it if)
  • left – remaining/departed from
  • liege – sovereign lord/loyal subject
  • mean – terrible/excellent (plays a mean game)
  • off – off/on (the alarm went off)
  • out – visible (stars) invisible (lights)
  • out of – outside (I work out in the field) /inside (I work out of my home)
  • oversight – error/care
  • pitted – with the pit in/with the pit removed
  • put out – extinguish/generate 
  • quiddity – essence/trifling point
  • quite – rather/completely
  • ravel – tangle/disentangle
  • rent – buy use of/sell use of
  • sanction – approve/boycott
  • sanguine – hopeful/murderous (obsolete synonym for sanguinary)
  • screen – show/hide
  • seed – add seeds (to seed a field)/remove seeds (to seed a tomato)
  • skinned – with the skin on/with the skin removed
  • strike – hit/miss (in baseball)
  • table – propose (in the United Kingdom)/set aside (in the United States)
  • transparent – invisible/obvious
  • unbending – rigid/relaxing
  • variety – one type (this variety), many types (a variety)
  • wear – endure through use/decay through use
  • weather – withstand/wear away
  • wind up – end/start (wind up a watch)
  • with – alongside/against

 

Learn more about contronyms at Zoe’s Blog