10 Contranyms (with examples)

English is a confusing language. Simple words can have opposite meanings or different implications. It all depends on the context. Here’s some examples …

Bolt – Secure, or flee.
(‘Bolt the door so the horses don’t bolt.’)

Dust – Remove fine particles, or add them.
(‘Dust the shelves then dust the cake with icing sugar.’)

Fast – Quick, or unmoving.
‘We went too fast and got stuck fast in the mud.’)

Finish – Complete, or destroy.
(‘Let’s finish the battle and finish the enemy.’)

First degree – Most severe, or least severe.
(‘He committed first degree murder but only suffered first degree burns.)

Left – Remain, or departed.
(‘Who’s left?’ / ‘He’s left.’)

Off – Activated, or deactivated.
(‘He set the alarm off then turned it off.’)

Out – Extinguished or visible.
(‘When the lights are out you can see what stars are out.’)

Refrain – Desist, or repeat.
(‘Please refrain from humming when we listen to the refrain.’)

Strike – To hit, or to miss.
(Baseball: ‘He didn’t strike the ball in three strikes, so he’s out.’)

Contranyms are sometimes called “Janus words” (after the two-faced god) because their confusing and contradictory meanings.

Who said English was easy?

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