Grammar 101: What is a Contronym?

by Vincent — April 24th, 2021

What is a contronym? Well, a contronym is a single word with two contradictory meanings. They’re quite rare, but we have a full list of contronyms. See all of them.

So, have you ever heard of a word in English that has two opposite meanings? We call a single word that has two contradictory meaning (they’re their own opposites) contronyms. As a result of this unique characteristic, they are quite rare. But, we have a full list of these words in English. Read below how you can use them in a sentence.

As a native English speaker, you probably know when to use contronyms in the right context. But, as a non-native English speaker, it might take a bit of time to use a contronym in the appropriate situation. If you do this, it can make you sound more natural in your speech. Also, it can show your understanding of English in a social context. Moreover, for your IELTS test it help you show you have a wide-ranging vocabulary.

For example, in this article we’ll look at why the word ‘apology’ is a contronym. Now, let’s explore some tips on identifying them.


Full list of contronyms in English

A contronym is a word that is spelled the same and pronounced the same. Yet, they have opposite meanings.

Opposite meaning of the word
 ApologyA statement of contrition for an action, or a defence of one.
 AughtAll, or nothing.
 BillA payment, or an invoice for payment.
 BoltTo secure, or to flee.
 BoundHeading to a destination, or restrained from movement.
 BuckleTo connect, or to break or collapse.
 CleaveAdhere, or to separate.
 ClipTo fasten, or detach
 ConsultOffer advice, or obtain it.
 ContinueTo keep doing an action, or to suspend an action.
 CustomA common practice, or a special treatment.
 DikeWall to prevent flooding, or a ditch.
 DiscursiveMoving in an orderly fashion among topics, or proceeding aimlessly in a discussion.
 DollopA large amount (in British English), or a small amount.
 DustTo add fine particles, or to remove them
 EnjoinImpose, or prohibit.
 FastQuick, or stuck or made stable.
 FineExcellent, or acceptable or good enough.
 FinishedCompleted, or ended or destroyed.
 First degreeMost severe in the case of a murder charge, or least severe in reference to a burn.
Opposite meaning of the word
 FixRepair, or to castrate.
 FlogTo promote persistently, or to criticize or beat.
 GarnishFurnish (for example as with food preparation), or to take away (as with wages).
 Give outTo provide, or to stop because of a lack of supply.
 GoProceed or succeed, or to weaken or fail.
 GradeA degree of slope, or a horizontal line or position.
 HandicapAn advantage provided to ensure equality, or a disadvantage that prevents equal achievement.
 HelpTo assist, or to prevent or (in negative constructions) restrain.
 Hold upSupport, or impede.
 LeaseTo offer property for rent, or to hold such property.
 LeftRemained, or departed.
 LetAllowed, or hindered.
 LiegeA feudal lord, or a vassal.
 LiterallyActually, or virtually.
 MeanAverage or stingy, or excellent.
 ModelAn exemplar, or a copy.
 OffDeactivated, or activated, as an alarm.
 OutVisible, as with stars showing in the sky, or invisible, in reference to lights.
 Out ofOutside, or inside, as in working out of a specific office.
 OverlookTo supervise, or to neglect.
 OversightMonitoring, or failing to oversee.
Opposite meaning of the word
 PeerA person of the nobility, or an equal.
 PresentlyNow, or soon.
 Put outExtinguish, or generate.
 PuzzleA problem, or to solve one.
 QuantumSignificantly large, or a minuscule part.
 QuiddityEssence, or a trifling point of contention.
 QuiteRather (as a qualifying modifier), or completely.
 RavelEntangle, or disentangle.
 RefrainTo desist from doing something, or to repeat.
 RentPurchase the use of something, or to sell the use of something.
 RockAn immobile mass of stone or figuratively similar phenomenon, or a shaking or unsettling movement or action.
 SanctionTo approve, or to boycott.
 SanguineConfidently cheerful, or bloodthirsty.
 ScanTo peruse, or to glance.
 ScreenPresent, or conceal.
Opposite meaning of the word
 SeedTo sow seeds, or to shed or remove them.
 ShopWhen one patronises a business in order to purchase something, or to sell something.
 SkinTo cover, or to remove.
 SkinnedCovered with skin, or with the skin removed.
 SpliceTo join, or to separate.
 StakeholderOne who has a stake in an enterprise, or a bystander who holds the stake for those placing a bet.
 StrikeTo hit, or to miss in an attempt to hit.
 TablePropose (in British English), or to set aside.
 TemperTo soften, or to strengthen.
 Throw outDispose of something, or present for consideration.
 TransparentInvisible, or obvious.
 TrimTo decorate, or to remove excess from.
 TripA journey, or a stumble.
 UnbendingRigid, or relaxing.
 VarietyA particular type, or many types.
 WearTo endure, or to deteriorate.
 WeatherWithstand, or wear away.
 Wind upTo end, or to start up.
 WithAlongside, or against.
Use contronyms in your IELTS test to show your skills in English

What is a contronym?

Contronym meaning

The dictionary meaning of the word contronym is “a word having two meanings that contradict one another.” A contronym is also called a “Janus word” or auto-antonym. It’s a word has contradictory (or reverse) meanings depending on the context. Specifically, a contronym is a word with a homonym (another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that is also an antonym (words with opposite meanings). For example, the word “transparent” can mean either something that is invisible or obvious.

From our full list of 75 contronyms you can tell that there are many examples of contronyms in the English language that we use in everyday conversation. As a result, you may also come across these words in your IELTS Speaking test. When you do this, you have to make sure you understand the context in which you’re using the word. Otherwise, you could end up saying the opposite of what you mean. Sometimes depending, on how much the contronym is used as slang, the people you are speaking with who may not know the second meaning.

How do you use a contronym in a sentence?

When you’ve read our full list of English contronyms, you’re well on your way to understanding the intricacies of the English language. But, if you want to use these contronym words correctly, check out the following examples.


  • Definition 1: A statement of contrition for an action. For example, when you are sorry about something you have done. I owe you an apology for running late to our meeting this morning.”
  • Definition 2: As a defence to something you’ve done wrong. For example, when you find an excuse for something. The worker’s excuse that the elevator was busy was a weak apology for running late to a meeting.”


To dust
  • Definition 1: To remove dust. For example, when you are cleaning the house. “As part of my weekly cleaning routine, I dust the cupboards in my bedroom.”
  • Definition 2: To sprinkle with soil or dust. For instance, when you decorate a cake. Before serving the cake, you should dust it with a layer of powdered sugar.”


  • Definition 1: Moving quickly or at high speed. “The driver was fined by the police for driving too fast.”
  • Definition 2: Stuck or to make stable. “The ship was held fast by the anchor chain.”


  • Definition 1: A person of nobility. For example, a member of one of the five ranks (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron) of the British peerage. Peers attended the royal wedding in the church, while commoners waited outside to see the royal newlyweds.”
  • Definition 2: One that is of equal standing with another. For example, a colleague or a classmate. Students are encouraged to have their assignments proof-read by their peers.”


To sanction
  • Definition 1: To permit or grant approval. For example when you receive official permission or approval for an action. “The law sanctions police cars driving faster than the speed limit in case of emergency.”
  • Definition 2: To condemn or penalise. For example, governments can take action against another country to force it to behave in a particular way. Or, as punishment for not doing so. “Trade sanctions will only be lifted when the government starts respecting international human rights.”

Learn idiomatic expressions for IELTS

The Speaking test in IELTS is just like a conversation that you would have in everyday life. You may notice many native English speakers use idioms in everyday speech. If you want a higher score for your IELTS Speaking test, you should include some idioms (and use them correctly). In our next Idioms A-Z post, you can learn some more most common idioms in English.

Are you unsure if you use idioms correctly? With IELTS Speaking Assist, you can practice your English speaking with an official IELTS expert and receive feedback on your performance. This is just one of the ways to study for IELTS.


Tips for your IELTS test

We regularly write easy tips in our IELTS resources. Most of these short, easy blog posts give you an insight into the IELTS test with some tricks on getting the score you need for migration, work or study. For example, our Grammar 101 series explains the difference between commonly confused words: believe vs belief or elude vs allude When you start looking, you’ll find a lot of these words that are spelled the same, but have different meanings. They’re called homophones, homographs or homonyms.

Other articles help you with your general English language skills. Do you know how to pronounce “debut?” Our most visited post 50 most commonly mispronounced words provides a good start to help you articulate and enunciate words correctly. We also have some quick guides on understanding verb tenses or how to improve your vocabulary and spelling.

If you are new to IELTS, you can also have a look at some of the pages that explain the test. For example, should you do IELTS Academic or General Training? Or, what test can you take when you look to migrate to Canada? Also, check out the computer-delivered IELTS tips.