Contronyms are also known as ‘auto-antonyms’, a word with multiple meanings with one being the contradiction of another. For example: to dust is to remove debris from a surface, while to dust can also mean to sprinkle something onto a surface… We can dust the worktop to remove any debris before placing the cake down to then dust it with icing sugar.
Here are some of our favourite contronyms in the English language.
“He buckled his shoes.”
“His legs buckled beneath him.”
“Her legal case was continued until after the New Year.”
“She continued to work any way.”
“They finished their work quickly.”
“They finished their enemy with a fatal blow.”
“She had to fix the kitchen tap.”
“She should get the dog fixed.”
“He had to go immediately.”
“The elastic on his pants was beginning to go.”
“She used blu tac to hold up her posters.”
“She was held up by bad traffic.”
“He was the only one left.”
“I left him at the party.”
“The light had been turned off.”
“The alarm was going off.”
“The stars are out tonight.”
“The lights went out.”
“I must overlook the work you are doing.”
“The mistake was overlooked.”
“You have 1 minute to complete this puzzle.”
“I am puzzling over this conundrum.”
“I rented this lawnmower for a week.”
“He rents his property to a nice family.”
“The schemes were officially sanctioned.”
“Due to late payment he was warned and then sanctioned.”
“The film was due to screen in 20 cities.”
“She was screened by the heavy curtain.”
“They tabled the discussion for another day.”
“They tabled a motion for immediate debate.”
“The hot sun was tempered by the cool breeze.”
“He now has tempered glass on his smartphone.”
“She could see through the transparent paper.”
“The meaning of the poem was transparent.”
“He trimmed the hedge.”
“He trimmed the hat with lace.”
“We must wind this up now.”
“He wound up acting in the play.”
We have all been there, right? When we are unable to remember how to spell a word and have to take a massive guess… Sometimes it works out- often it does not.
Here are 10 examples of when “Just spell it how it sounds” is actually terrible advice.
As a Welsh person I am well aware of this phenomenon, especially as we use so much incidental Welsh in our speech. That’s a whole different language but around the UK different regions also have their own variations on regional words.
Bruce Worden’s Facebook page Homophones, Weakly explores the wonder that is the English language in all its confusing glory. His clever illustrations show the difference between the words in a visual way- helping any of us still struggling with there/their/they’re, among others.
“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
~James D. Nicoll~