Appendix:Glossary of auto-antonyms

Merge-arrow.gif It has been requested that this appendix be merged with Appendix:English contranyms(+).

This is a List of auto-antonyms in English -- that is, words which in and of themselves have two or more generally accepted meanings in the English language that directly or generally contradict each other. Such words are also known as antagonyms, contronyms, and words having self-contradictions. Many such contra-definitions arise from slang usage. Others develop as a result of their frequent use in sarcasm.

A similar concept, where a commonly used phrase contains two words which have or can be construed to have definitions in opposition to each other is known as an oxymoron.

There are two forms of contranyms: homographic, where two words with the same spelling can have opposing definitions; and homophonic, where two words with the same pronunciation can have opposing definitions. In general, the terms below are both homographic and homophonic contranyms.

Richard Lederer included a list of self-contradicting words in a chapter on Janus-faced words in his book Crazy English.[1]

Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


(1) to disclose (2) to obscure[2]
(1) a military advance (2) a difficult and dangerous military retreat[3]
(1) an admission of error accompanied by a plea for forgiveness (2) a formal defense or justification (as in Plato's Apology), also referred to as an apologia [4]
(1) originally used as a term to mean full of awe, even better than awesome (2) now means something exceptionally bad[5]


back up 
(1) to retreat; (2) to give support, therefore holding your ground
(1) in advance of ("the future is before us") (2) at an earlier time, previously ("our forefathers came before us")[6]
(1) a flat piece of land; (2) an artificial ridge of land [7]
(1) to fasten into a fixed position or place; (2) to leave one's current place rapidly, with great acceleration; Similar contrary meanings to 'bound', 'buckle' and 'fast'.
(1) an adjective describing bones (as in "big-boned"); (2) an adjective, based on the past tense of the verb "bone", meaning that bones have been removed (as in a "boned chicken")
Not actually a case of a contronym, but a homonym. Webster's has six separate entries for "bound". The first is a synonym for "going", as in college-bound or hellbound, from Germanic buan. The fourth is based on the past tense of "bind", where one is held in place, and not going at all, from Germanic bintan. [8]
(1) to secure, tighten, hold (by fastening with a buckle), (2) to collapse after being acted upon by an external force, as in "to buckle under the strain" [9]


In British slang this has come to mean "pleased", synonymous to "puffed up"; an older definition, also colloquial is "displeased, upset". Specifically, "chuff" is the sound of exhaust being emanated, as from a train engine.
This is a homophone, where two words, spelled and pronounced alike, have different origins. (1) "To adhere firmly", from Old English clifian. (2) to split (as with a cleaver), from Old English cleofan [10]
This is a homophone. (1) "to clasp or fasten with a clip", is from Anglo-Saxon clyppan. (2) "to cut or cut off" (with clippers or scissors) is from Old Norse klippa.
(1) Following as an effect, result, or conclusion; consequent. (2) Having important consequences; significant.
In regard to calories, one can consume them by ingesting them, or by expending them.
Contemporary alone means "modern", but with a reference point it may also mean "at a specific time in the past"
The verb continue means "to keep doing"; however the noun form continuation, in legal usage, means "to pick up later", particularly in the form continuance.
In commonly accepted slang, cool means happy, pleasant, agreeable; but when referring to a personal interaction, especially in politics, it usually means "less than agreeable" or "polite but strained" (he received a cool reception to his speech).
"could care less" 
This malapropism of the expression "couldn't care less" is often used with its meaning of "to not care at all"; however literally it means "to care at least somewhat".
Can mean "vital to success" (a critical component), or "disparaging" (a critical comment).[9]
As a noun, this means "conventional behavior"; but as an adjective, it means "specially designed".


In essay structure, it can mean either to be rambling or freeform (American usage), but also can mean to be strictly structured (British usage).
As a past tense verb, disposed means "removed" or "gotten rid of"; as an adjective; disposed means "available".
When referring to difficulty, it means "progressively easier"; but when referring to status or condition, it means "progressively worse".[9]
As a verb, "to dust" can mean either "to remove dust from" (as in "dusting furniture") or "to add dust to" (as in "dusting a cake with powdered sugar"); also commonly used to refer to "dusting for fingerprints."[9]
Ditch dug for irrigation, or flood defence built from material dug from ditch.


Adjective meaning outstandingly bad or shocking; in a different context it can mean remarkably good.
As an adjective, it can either mean "one or the other of two," as in "you either passed or failed your test" or "each of two; the one and the other" as in "there are trees on either side of the river."
Can mean either "long lasting" or "suffering through". In some context this can lead to antonymic word play, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in connection with George W. Bush's name for the war in Afghanistan: "Enduring Freedom".
A verb meaning "instruct" or "command" can be used as "to require" or "to forbid," as in a judicial order -- not really an autoantonym, but fun just the same. Notice that "instruct" and "command" could as easily be pressed into the same service.
Current use, applied to a future event or occurrence, means "inevitable, given enough time": "His eventual appointment to the Board..." An older usage, applied in the same situation, means "possible, subject to contingencies".
To execute a person is to end their life; to execute a program is to start it [Note: This contradiction arises from a shift in meaning of execution in the sense of capital punishment; what is being executed is technically the sentence of death (i.e. it is being started, just like starting a program), but the usage has shifted away from the sentence and to the prisoner]. [RLC 19 July 2007]


Fast can mean either "to move or do quickly" or it can mean "to not move," as in "holding fast". As an adjective, it can also convey both meanings: "The rabbit is fast;" "The door is fast."[9]
Fearful can mean either "causing fear" or "[being] full of fear"[11].
Similar to "fearful," "fearsome" can also mean either "causing fear" or "inclined to fear" [12].
Fix can mean either "to mend" or it can mean "to break," as in "I'll fix you".
Flank can either mean to protect the sides of something or to attack the flanks.
As seen on a shampoo bottle, "For oily hair" meaning what you want to get away from and "For best results" meaning what you want to get to.


With food, the verb means "to add to"; with wages, it means "to take from". (Strictly speaking, though, the intention of the latter is to mean something added to the charges against the wages, alongside insurance, taxes, etc.)
usually true, but also subject to exception. The meaning "all-inclusive, without exception" is now obsolete, except in mathematics, where it still occasionally causes confusion.


Advantage (e.g. in sport) or disadvantage/disability.[13]
Either barely just, or with extreme power
"To separate" as well as "to stick (to)" (when used with "to"); cf. "cleave" above.


(1) Strongly affected. (2) Without passion or feeling.
incorporate (adjective)




To lend or to borrow.
As a past tense verb, it means "to have gone"; as an adjective; it means "remaining".
As a verb usually means "allow"; in an older (but not obsolete) sense it means "prevent".
Discolored as from a bruise or ashen with shock or dull blue or grayish-blue; reddish or flushed or enraged or furiously angry
Can mean either pale or glowing with color.


it can mean ordinary neither good nor bad or rather poor or inferior
Formerly and more acceptably meaning "open for discussion, debatable," it is now more commonly used to mean "irrelevant to discussion or debate."
it can mean to move quickly or to move leisurely



Generally, something being off means it is not operating; however when an alarm goes off, it means it has started operating (or when a person goes off, it means they have become very agitated).
Original either means plain, or unchanged (as in original flavour), or it could mean something creative or new (an original idea).
Similar to off, to take something out means to remove it; but to bring something out is to exhibit it prominently. For instance saying that "the lights are out" means they are not shining, but saying 'the stars are out" means they are easily visible.
Exceptional, prominent, excellent; but also unsettled, unresolved, overdue.
When used as a general concept, this word is the noun form of oversee, which means "to manage and be in charge of". But when used to refer to a specific incident, it becomes the noun form of overlook, meaning "error" or lapse in proper management.[9]


As a verb, "to pants someone" can mean to either apply or remove pants to/from the body.
Although considered an error by most usage experts, the word peruse is commonly understood to mean "to skim over" or "to glance at." The accepted definition is "to examine closely."[14]
[idiomatic] To discard. Also, to promote. A headline from the edition of January 6, 2009, reading "Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan" is ambiguous, though the "promote" meaning is intended.
having pits, having pits removed. Do "pitted olives" contain pits?
Its older meaning is "immediately"; its contemporary meaning is "in a while".
Usually it refers to something so valuable that no price can be set, but it can also mean worthless.
As a noun, it refers to the common people of a society; however as an adjective, it normally refers to things operated by the government. (Of course, such government operations are maintained for public use. Furthermore, under representative democracy, the people and the government are considered one and the same by definition.) [15]


Can mean "limited" (as in "qualified success") or "skilled, skilful" (as in "a qualified expert").
Can mean either the essence of a thing or a quibble.


can mean "marked by reflection" or "characterized by habitual, unthinking behavior"[16]
can be used to mean paying to use something, as in "I'm renting an apartment", or used to mean taking money to let someone else something of yours, as in "We rent cars to anyone, no questions asked"[9]
can mean "to restore to a former place or position" (e.g. "I replaced the old rug after washing it") or "to put something new in the place of" (e.g. "I replaced the old rug with a new one"). Ambiguous sentence: "When the brakes are worn-out, take them out and replace them."
as a concrete noun, this can be "a confirmation" of availability; as an abstract noun, it is "a fear or uncertainty".
when someone resigns a contract (transitive) he commits to continuing his involvement in some activity. On the other hand, when he resigns (intransitive) he relieves himself of that commitment. The former is sometimes hyphenated (i.e. re-sign) to emphasize its pronunciation and differentiate the pair. For example, to resign from work is to end the work, while to resign oneself to work is to give up all hope of ending the work.
can mean overuse of the letter R or the inability to pronounce it.


"To permit" or "to restrict" (as in "economic sanctions.")[9]
Originally, this word meant "to examine closely," but has come to mean "to look over hastily".
Conceal with or as if with a screen; or "to display prominently" as in screening a film.
Usually obvious due to context; but this can mean either "hidden" (secreted away), or "exposed" (secreted from a wound). The former is the verb form of "secret", and is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. The latter is the past tense of "secrete" and is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. (This would not be a contronym, but a homograph, where two words from different roots are spelled the same, but pronounced differently.)
to plant a field, or to clean seeds from a fruit.[9]
Originally meaning "separate, single, or individual", (as in "the several states" referred to in the US Constitution) it is now understood to mean "plural, more than two".
to put inside a shed (as in "I'm going to shed the lawnmower for the winter"), or to remove (as in "the snake shed its skin").
Shelled can describe either the result of removing a shell (e.g., we shelled the hazelnuts) or describe something that has a shell (e.g., turtles are like shelled snakes with legs) or describe the act of adding shells (the USS Nimitz shelled Baghdad).
In the standard usage, this means "something that is strikingly attractive or has great popular appeal". Recent usage particularly in the computer industry has "A bug that makes an implementation effectively unusable".[17]
Used with a standard definition, this word can mean "disgusted; revolted," but used colloquially, it can mean "very pleasant; agreeable".
A color word that can mean either green or red, depending on usage.
To add skin, or to remove it. "Skin that deer" "Skin that kayak".
to work like a slave; drudge or to engage in the slave trade; procure, transport, or sell slaves.
Historically and legally means to hold (but not have an interest in) a stake; however, the term is now sometimes used, especially re corporate governance, to reference one who does have an interest in an issue.
Can mean stopping an action ("stay the execution"), or to continue an action ("stay the course" - note: the original meaning of the phrase "stay the course" was in the first sense; that is, to stop the course of action).
Normally meaning "to hit", in baseball it means "to miss", and an extension of this usage has led to the meaning "to make a mistake". Further adding to the contradiction, in bowling it refers to the best possible play. Another contradiction results with the phrase strike out: the baseball lineage leads to the meaning "to run out of hope"; but the original lineage also leads to the meaning "to start pursuing a desire"
Can mean that a person is acting in a way that suggests wrong-doing, i.e. "He seems very suspicious." or can mean that the person in question suspects wrong doing in others, i.e. "He was suspicious of her motives."


As a verb, it can mean either (a) to raise an issue for discussion, or (b) to lay an issue aside and discontinue discussion.
As an adjective, it can mean either "aimed at" or "being aimed at".
As a verb, it can either mean to soften or mollify, or to strengthen (e.g. a metal).
Originally and still used to mean "inducing terror", but has now come to have a positive connotation as well, meaning "fantastic" or "amazing"
throw out
Can mean either to "to discard" something or "to offer an idea."
Similar to clip: it can mean "to add decoration to" (trim the (Christmas) tree), or "to remove from" (trim the bushes).
A fluid effortless motion or the act of falling due to an unforeseen obstacle.
As an adjective, 'hard to endure'. As a verb, 'to make an effort'. A teacher's report may say, "Your child is trying". [18]


Rigid, inflexible, refusing to yield or compromise, as in "his stance against reform was unbending": or becoming less tense, relaxing, as in "unbending a little, she confided ..."
Not removed from their shells (adjective) or having been removed from their shells (the past tense and past participle of "to unshell"). The ambiguity therefore arises when in the adjective is used predicatively, as in "The eggs were unshelled", which can mean "The eggs had not been removed from their shells" or "The eggs were removed from their shells" (someone unshelled them).


Can refer to either a small locked box, or the expanse of the heavens.


Weathering a storm means "to endure" the storm; but generally weathering means "to decay".[19]
The strict definition of the adjective is "evil"; the now generally accepted slang usage (barring regional quirks) is roughly equivalent to "very good".
Can mean 'against' or 'in opposition to', e.g. The United States fought with Great Britain in the War of 1812. Also denotes a close association between two or more participants, e.g. The United States fought with Great Britain against Germany in World War II.





  1. ^ Lederer, Richard (1998-06-01) Crazy English, Revised edition, Pocket, ISBN 0671023233, page 224
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "bound", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p130
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 Gorrell, Robert (1994) Watch Your Language: Mother Tongue And Her Wayward Children[1], University of Nevada Press, pages 61-63
  10. ^ "cleave", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1977), p208
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara ((Can we date this quote?))“Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[2], pages 132-134
  14. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara ((Can we date this quote?))“Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[3], page 130
  15. ^ The comparison of a noun to an adjective is not a contradiction, and as noted, the adjective derives from use by the persons described in the noun.
  16. ^ reflexive - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  17. ^ showstopper
  18. ^ Although the word "trying" may have different meanings, "making an effort" is not the opposite of "hard to endure"
  19. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara ((Can we date this quote?))“Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[4], page 131