"Bark" — is it a dog's bark or the bark of a tree? Are you using a pen to write a letter or do you keep your animals in a pen? These words with multiple meanings for the same spelling and pronunciation are called "homonyms," but there's a special class called "contronyms." A contronym is a word with multiple meanings that are the direct opposite. Take a look below and learn how often these contrary words pop up in your vocabulary.
Examples of Contranyms
Are you stuck in one place or springing forward? Bound can mean tied up or restrained, but it can also refer to heading to a destination, as in, “I’m homeward bound.”
Once you recognize the two opposite meanings of this word, you can’t unsee it. Transparent can refer to something that completely see through, or even invisible, such as a glass window. Yet it can also refer to something plainly obvious, like a piece of salacious news or a key fact. It's so obvious that it's transparent.
The most opulent and luxurious items in the world may be described as fine – fine furs, fine furniture, and fine silks, for example. But a satisfactory or just good enough performance may be deemed "fine" with a dismissive shrug.
Fasten up or fall apart with this two-sided contronym. We tend to "buckle up" when securing ourselves in, like in a vehicle. But in a moment of weakness, our knees may buckle and cause us to collapse.
This one’s a bit of hide and seek. You may screen off something you want to keep private, or screen someone’s phone calls. We also use "screen" to highlight big, public displays, like announcing you’re going to screen your new movie for an audience. You definitely don't want to mix up the two.
Legally and medically, this phrase is used in opposite ways. In a murder case, first degree refers to the most severe type of charge. But with a burn, first degree is the mildest form. Maybe you got a light sunburn, or you touched a hot pan.
When you're trying to make a custom order, you're probably thinking one-of-a-kind or bespoke. Yet "custom" also applies to the everyday customs, habits, and hobbies many of us practice, making this word extraordinarily ordinary.
Are you coming or going? We may throw out an idea as a way to introduce something to a group. And if it’s not well-received? That same group may throw it out and never think of it again.
You might be used to clipping things in – seatbelts, carabiners, or backpacks. But other folks will tell you that clipping is all about taking things out – like hair or nails.
No matter which way you slice it, this word refers to something that’s done – but in two different senses. Something could be finished, as in completed or whole, like the draft of a novel, or building a house. But it can also refer to something that’s destroyed or over – like a relationship.