11 English Words Which Are Their Own Opposites

English words which are their own opposites contronyms cover pic

English is a funny language. A fat chance and a slim chance are the same thing.
— Jack Herbert

Words can be tricky. If you have read our post on words which confuse you by their sounds, you would have realized that you should not depend on the sound of a word for its meaning. But wait a minute – weird sounding words are not the only weapon English has in its arsenal to confuse you.

The English language has well over a million words. There are words to describe pretty much everything and according to the Global Language Monitor:

Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14 words per day.

With new words being added at such a high rate you must be wondering what is the need to reuse a word to mean different things. But English goes one step further. It not only uses one word to mean different things but also has words which mean their exact opposite. What we mean to say is that:

There are words in English which are their own opposites!

Yes, English language is so confusing that a word can mean one thing and also its total opposite based on the context. Such words are called as Contronyms or Janus words, after the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and endings.

So be careful of these 11 contronyms in English, for you never know when they may end up tripping you 😉


1. Bolt
Contronym words opposite english bolt secure run away

If you bolt the door it means you have secured it. But if your horse bolts it means it is time for a chase as the horse has unsecured itself.


2. Variety
Contronym words opposite english variety one many types

A watermelon is your favorite variety (one type) of melon. But keep in mind that your local grocer sells a variety (many types) of fruits.


3. Off
Contronym words opposite english off stopped started

If the lights are turned off (stopped) it means it’s time for bed. But if your alarm has gone off (started) it means it’s time to wake up now.


4. Weather
Contronym words opposite english weather worn out withstood

You may have weathered (worn out) skin due to old age, but you may still be strong enough to weather (withstand) a storm.


5. Screen
Contronym words opposite english screen show hide

They are screening (showing) your favorite movie, but make sure you screen (hide) yourself from the harmful rays of the sun.


6. Clip
Contronym words opposite english clip join detach

Clipping (joining) your notes together is not the same as clipping (detaching) your hair.


7. Left
Contronym words opposite english left remained went away

There were just two apples left (remained). The rest she took away with herself when she left (went away).


8. Quantum
Contronym words opposite english quantum small large

A bug is like a quantum (extremely small) particle when you consider the sheer quantum (extremely large) of the size of the universe.


9. Sanction
Contronym words opposite english sanction approve prohibit

A bank may sanction (approve) your loan. But may impose sanctions (prohibit) on you if you do not repay it in time.


10. SeedContronym words opposite english seed put in remove

You seed (put in) the ground with watermelon seeds, and in time you will get sweet watermelons. But remember to seed (remove seeds) them before eating.


11. Wicked
Contronym words opposite english wicked bad good

Nobody likes a wicked (bad) person, but everyone likes a wicked (good) performance.

Now that you know all about Contronyms make sure to never get trapped by these tricky words again!



  1. The “screen” in movies pertain to the movie screen, not the act of “showing a movie.” “Screening a movie” is a popular, but incorrect usage.

    • Thanks for your observation. However, Wikipedia says this about “film screening” :
      A film screening is the displaying of a motion picture or film, generally referring to a special showing as part of a film’s production and release cycle.
      See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_screening

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  5. Wicked … (Y) … 🙂

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