Contronyms, also known as antagonyms, autoantonyms or Janus words, are words which, by some freak of language evolution, have two opposite meanings, according to the context in which they occur. For example, with can mean 'alongside' in 'Come with me' but 'against' or 'in opposition to' in 'Hannibal fought with the Romans'. A door that is bolted is secure, but a horse that has bolted has taken off. If you wind up a meeting you finish it; if you wind up a watch you start it. Is it any wonder that English is so difficult to learn?


~ A ~

AboardAlongside ~~~ Inside
AdumbrateTo clarify ~~~ To cast a shadow over
AgainstIn the direction of and in contact with ~~~ In an opposite direction
AlightSettle onto ~~~ Dismount from
AnabasisA military advance ~~~ A military retreat
AnonImmediately (archaic) or soon ~~~ Later
AnxiousFull of mental distress because of apprehension of danger or misfortune ~~~ Eager or looking forward to something
ApparentNot clear or certain (For now, he is the apparent winner of the contest) ~~~ Obvious (The solution to the problem was apparent to all)
ArgueTo try to prove by argument ~~~ To argue against
AssumeTo actually have (To assume office) ~~~ To hope to have (He assumed he would be elected)
AughtAll ~~~ Nothing
AvocationA hobby ~~~ A regular occupation
AwfulExtremely unpleasant, ugly ~~~ Awe-inspiring (a feeling of admiration)

~ B ~

BiannualTwice a year ~~~ Once every two years
BimonthlyTwice a month ~~~ Once every two months
BiweeklyTwice a week ~~~ Once every two weeks
BoltSecure ~~~ Run away
BoundMoving (He was bound for London) ~~~ Unable to move (He was bound to a post)
BuckleTo hold together (Buckle your belt) ~~~ To fall apart (Buckle under pressure)
ByMultiplication (Three by five inches square) ~~~ Division (Divide six by two)

~ C ~

CertainDefinite ~~~ Hard to specify (He had a certain feeling)
CharterGrant for pay ~~~ Use for pay
CipherZero ~~~ Any number
CitationGiven for doing good (An official commendation) ~~~ Given for doing bad (A court summons)
CleaveTo adhere tightly ~~~ To cut apart
ClipTo attach ~~~ To cut off
CognomenFirst name ~~~ Last name
CompriseTo contain entirely (The United States comprises 50 states) ~~~ To be included in (The 50 states comprise the United States)
CorkTo take out ~~~ To insert (a cork into/from a bottle)
ConsultAsk for advice ~~~ Give advice
ContingentUnpredictable ~~~ Dependent on a known condition
CounterfeitA legitimate copy (archaic) ~~~ A copy meant to deceive
CriticalOpposed to ("critical of") ~~~ essential to ("critical to")
CropTo plant or grow ~~~ To cut or harvest
CullTo select ~~~ To reject
CustomUsual ~~~ Special (Custom-built)

~ D ~

DeceptivelyMore than it looks ~~~ Less than it looks
DiscursiveProceeding coherently from topic to topic ~~~ Moving aimlessly from topic to topic
DownHill ~~~ Valley
DressPut covering on (usually clothes) ~~~ Take covering (usually skin) off
DustTo remove dust (As in cleaning furniture) ~~~ To apply dust (As in fingerprinting)
DykeWall ~~~ ditch

~ E ~

EffectivelyIn effect (Doing the equivalent of the action but not the real thing) ~~~ With effect (Doing the action and doing it well) [Contrast 'He is effectively lying' with 'He is lying effectively']
EnjoinTo order to do something ~~~ To stop someone from doing something (such as in law by an injunction)

~ F ~

FastMoving rapidly ~~~ Unable to move (He was held fast to the spot)
FearfulCausing fear ~~~ Being afraid
FilterTo allow to pass through ~~~ To prevent from passing through
FinishKill ~~~ Perfect (eg. at a finishing school)
FiremanFirefighter ~~~ Fire-stoker (on a train, ship)
FixTo restore to function (Fixing the television) ~~~ To make non-functional (Fixing the dog, i.e castrate)
FleshTo add substance (flesh out) ~~~ take away (clean a hide of flesh)
FlogCritise harshly ~~~ Promote aggressively

~ G ~

GarnishEnhance (e.g. food) ~~~ Curtail (e.g. wages)
GradeIncline ~~~ Level

~ H ~

HandicapAdvantage (in golf) ~~~ Disadvantage
HelpAssist ~~~ Prevent ("It couldn't be helped.")
HomelyUgly (US) ~~~ Pleasant (UK)
HystericalBeing overwhelmed with fear ~~~ Very funny

~ I ~

ImpregnableNot pregnable ~~~ Capable of being impregnated
IncorporateWhen a town is incorporated, it is formed ~~~ when it is incorporated into a city, the town is destroyed
InflammableBurns easily ~~~ Does not burn (Only the first definition is correct; many wrongly assume that the prefix in- gives it the second meaning)
InoculateTo protect against ~~~ To infect with

~ J ~

JointTo combine ~~~ To separate (to joint meat)

~ L ~

LastJust prior ~~~ Final (His last book will be his last publication)
LeaseTo loan out for money ~~~ To 'borrow' for money
LeftTo remain ~~~ To have gone ("Of all my visitors, only Henry's left." could mean Henry's the only one still remaining or that he's the only one to have gone)
LetTo hinder (archaic) ~~~ To allow
LicenseFreedom or permission to do something ~~~ Undue or excessive freedom or liberty
LiterallyActually; really ~~~ Figuratively; virtually
LividPale, ashen ~~~ Dark-grey-blue

~ M ~

MadCarried away by enthusiasm or desire ~~~ Carried away by hatred or anger
MarkWrite ~~~ Read ("mark my words")
ModelArchetype ~~~ Copy
MootDebatable; arguable ~~~ Academic; irrelevant
MortarGlue together ~~~ Blow apart

~ N ~

NervyShowing calm courage ~~~ Exitable

~ O ~

OutVisible (The stars are out) ~~~ Invisible (The lights are out)
OverlookTo pay attention to, inspect ~~~ To ignore
OversightWatchful and responsible care ~~~ An omission or error due to carelessness

~ P ~

PeerNoble ~~~ Person of equal rank
PersuseRead in a casual way, skim ~~~ To read with great attention to detail, study carefully
PitchErect and fix firmly in place ~~~ Throw away
PolicyRequired activity without exception ~~~ An optional course of action
PracticedExperienced, expert ~~~ Inexperienced effort
PresentlyNow ~~~ After some time
PricelessHave a very high value ~~~ Having no marked value
ProtestTo object ~~~ To affirm
PutLay ~~~ Throw
PuzzleTo pose a problem ~~~ To solve a problem

~ Q ~

QualifiedCompetent ~~~ Limited ("The party was a qualified success")
QuantumVery small (e.g. in Physics) ~~~ Very large (e.g. "Quantum leap")
QuiddityEssence ~~~ Trifling point
QuiteCompletely ~~~ Not completely (Quite empty means totally empty, while quite full means not completely full)

~ R ~

RavelTo disentangle ~~~ To tangle, entangle
RecoverHide away (cover again) ~~~ Bring out (recover from hidden place)
ReelWind onto ~~~ Let out from
RefrainRepeat (the chorus of a song) ~~~ Stop (refrain from swearing)
ReleaseLet go ~~~ Hold on to (lease the property again)[re-lease]
RentBuy use of ~~~ Sell use of
ReplaceTake away (replace the stained clothing) ~~~ Put back (replace the clothes in the drawer)
RepressHold back ~~~ Put forth (press again) [re-press]
ReproveRebuke ~~~ Support (re-prove someone's innocence)
ReservationWhat you make when you know where you want to go ~~~ What you have if you are not sure you want to go
ResignTo quit a contract ~~~ To sign a contract again (re-sign)
RockyFirm, steadfast ~~~ Tending to sway (a rocky stepladder)
RootTo establish (The seed took root) ~~~ To remove (Root out the weeds)

~ S ~

SanctionSupport for an action ~~~ Penalty for an action (The MP was sanctioned for inappropriate behaviour
SanguineMurderous ~~~ Cheerfully optimistic
ScanTo examine closely ~~~ To look over hastily
ScreenShow ~~~ Hide
SecreteTo extrude ~~~ To hide
SecretedPut out, released ~~~ Placed out of sight
SeedTo spread seeds ~~~ To remove seeds (from a fruit, say)
SeededWith seeds ~~~ Without seeds
SettleTo move (the dust settled) ~~~ To stop moving (he settled into his seat)
SirenSeductive sound ~~~ Harsh sound
SkinTo cover with skin ~~~ to remove outer covering or skin
SnapBreak into pieces ( The glass snapped into pieces) ~~~ Fasten together (The pieces snapped together)
SpliceTo join together ~~~ To cut in two
StainTo colour ~~~ To discolour
StipulateRequest explicitly ~~~ Agree to

~ T ~

TablePropose (In UK) ~~~ Set aside (In USA)
TemperCalmness ~~~ Passion / Harden (steel) ~~~ Soften (justice)
TerrificExtraordinarily good (informal) ~~~ Causing terror
TiltTo incline toward ~~~ To charge against
TransparentEasily seen (His motives were transparent) ~~~ Invisible
TrimTo add things to (trim a Christmas tree) ~~~ Take pieces off (trim hair)
TripTo stumble ~~~ To move gracefully (Trip the light fantastic)

~ U ~

UnbendingRigid ~~~ Relaxing
UnqualifiedNot qualified ~~~ Very qualified ("The dance was an unqualified success")

~ V ~

VegetativeFull of life ~~~ Dull, apathetic, passive
VernacularNonstandard speech ~~~ Standard speech
VitalLively ~~~ Deadly

~ W ~

WaterPour water out ~~~ Take on water
WearEndure through use ~~~ Decay through use
WeatherWithstand ~~~ Erode away
WiddershinsCounterclockwise ~~~ (In the southern hemisphere) Clockwise
WithAlongside ~~~ Against
WraithGhost of a dead person ~~~ Apparition of a living person

~ X ~

XSelect (mark with an X) ~~~ Deselect (cross out)

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