25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites

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There’s no way around it – English is a weird language. Because of its multitude of rules, many of which have exceptions or contradict one another, and its many synonyms and homonyms, it is one of the hardest languages in the world for non-speakers to learn (aside from Mandarin – eep!).

The 25 words on this list certainly don’t make things any easier! They’re called contronyms – words that are their own antonyms.

#25. Sanction

This word can mean ‘give official approval for,’ or conversely, ‘impose a penalty upon.’

#24. Oversight

This is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, ‘oversee’ and ‘overlook.’ Oversee means to supervise, while overlook means the opposite – to “fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.”

#23. Left

This word can mean either ‘remaining’ or ‘departed.’ Example: ‘The men left the room’, as opposed to ‘there are five cupcakes left.’

#22. Dust

This noun turned into a verb (like the following 2 words) can mean either you are adding something or taking it away, depending on context. Examples: dusting the crops versus dusting the furniture.

#21. Seed

Same as above – context is everything. Are you seeding a fruit (removing) or seeding your garden (planting)?

#20. Stone

Again – you can stone a cherry, but you shouldn’t stone your husband (even if you’re mad at him for getting stoned. Heh.).

#19. Trim

Trimming something can either be cutting bits of it away, or adding decorations like lace or tinsel. You can trim a cake, but you also trim your bangs – opposite meanings depending on what, exactly, is being trimmed. And if you trim your christmas tree, no one knows what you are doing to it!

#18. Cleave

In the Bible, a husband is instructed to ‘cleave’ to his wife (cling), but we also know it means to split apart. Makes you wonder what exactly ‘cleavage’ is referring to, doesn’t it?

#17. Resign

This word’s two meanings are a little peculiar because they’re actually pronounced differently, but, when written, it’s hard to tell them apart. One means to quit (resign), the other to begin anew (re-sign).

#16. Fast

This word can mean ‘moving quickly’ or ‘fixed and unmoving.’ He’s running fast, but the colors on his uniform are holding fast. Yikes.

#15. Off

Activated or deactivated? Depends on whether your alarm went off, or you turned off your alarm. This has to do mainly with which verbs the preposition ‘off’ is attached to, but it can still be mighty confusing to a non-native speaker.

#14. Weather

Did you weather (come safely through) a storm, or was your house weathered (worn away) during the rain? You decide.

#13. Screen

This one can mean either ‘to show’ (screen a film) or ‘to hide’ (screen your motives) depending on how you use it.

#12. Help

This one might be cheating, since it needs the qualifier ‘can’t.’ You can help (assist) someone, but maybe you can’t help (prevent) leaving them to their own devices.

#11. Clip

It can mean ‘to bind together’ (like your chip clip!) or ‘to separate’ (as in clipping your coupons).

#10. Continue

Usually, this means to keep doing something, but, if you use it in a courtroom, you’d be asking for permission to pause and pick up proceedings later.

#9. Fight With

A triple threat: ‘argue with,’ ‘serve alongside,’ or ‘use in battle.’

#8. Flog

Two very different meanings from two disparate time periods. It used to be used as ‘to beat or whip,’ but now can be used to talk about promoting something (America Fererra was out flogging her new movie).

#7. Go

It can mean ‘proceed’ or ‘give out or fail.’ The first one is obvious, and you’ve probably heard the second used like, ‘my old dog’s hearing is starting to go.’

#6. Hold Up

This can mean ‘to support’ or ‘to hinder.’

#5. Out

This is another preposition that’s meaning shifts depending on the verb it is attached to. Is something visible or invisible? Depends on whether the stars are out or the stars are going out.

#4. Out Of

Outside or inside? Do you work out of your house, or do you go out of your home to work?

#3. Bitch

This can refer to someone who is domineering and aggressive OR someone who is passive and meek. Not the nicest word to use in either sense, though.

#2. Peer

In the States, peer is commonly used to refer to others of equal status, but in England, only members of the nobility are ‘peers’ (they belong to the peerage).

#1. Toss Out

If you toss something out (ie. garbage or a great idea), you can either get rid or it or suggest it.

Don’t you feel smarter, now? I know I do!