Contronyms or Antagonyms or Auto-antonyms

Many words have several definitions, like bill.  But in some cases those definitions are conflicting.  With bill, for example, in one instance it refers to a debt and in another an asset.  These are called auto-antonyms.  (They are also called “contronyms,” “antagonyms,” “self-antonyms,” “self-contradicting words,” and “janus words.”) 

Following are two lists.  The first list presents the more interesting auto-antonyms in literal context.  The second list has every other antagonym found on pages across the Internet.

act  (sincere deed vs. pretend behavior) — The miser’s act  of charity was no act  this time.


anxious  (anticipate eagerly vs. await with dread) — Jill was anxious  to get married while Jack was anxious  about getting married.


apparent  (obvious vs. not clear) — It was apparent  to all, Joe was the apparent  loser.


assume  (actually have vs. hope to have) — At the reading of the will, Zak assumed  the role of an assumed  heir.


avocation  (hobby vs. ones regular job) — Upon retirement, Biff’s avocation  became his avocation  .


awful  (awe-inspiring vs. extremely unpleasant) — For Mona, an awful  sunset did not fix an awful  day.


bill  (something to pay vs. something to pay with) — Bill decided to pay his erotologist’s bill  with a hundred dollar bill  .


bolt  (jump away vs. secure) — That horse will bolt  from the stable unless you bolt  him to the stable.


bound  (moving vs. unable to move) — Efram was bound  for prison where he was bound  to a post.


buckle  (close up vs. fall apart) — When Biff buckled  his pants too tight, he groaned and buckled  to the floor.


bull  (a solemn edict vs. nonsense) — The boss issued a bull  that was full of bull  .


can  (preserve vs. get rid of) — Marge liked to can  fruit nearly as much as she liked to can  incompetent employees.


citation  (commendation vs. court summons) — Policeman Purdy receive a citation  for issuing the most citations  .


cleave  (stick together vs. divide) — Seeing that the cheese balls cleaved  together, Orville cleaved  them with a knife.


clip  (cut apart vs. put together) — Bonnie would clip  the coupons from the newspaper faster than Clyde could clip  them together.


cool  (positive vs. negative) — Mark’s cool  website received a cool  reception.


custom  (ordinary vs. special) — It was custom  in these parts to have your boots custom  made.


dust  (spread dust on vs. wipe away dust) — First Clive dusted  for fingerprints, then dusted  the dust.


enthrall  (delight vs. subjugate) — As master of the plantation, Mason was not enthralled  about enthralling  anymore.


fast  (moving rapidly vs. unable to move) — When hungry, Marvin was fast  to the table where he sat fast  in his chair.


fixed  (restore to function vs. make non-functional) — Rene fixed  the puppy problem by getting the dog fixed  .


fit  (in good shape vs. convulsive behavior) — Rhoda Dendron was thought to be fit  until she had a fit  .


founder  (to sink vs. one who establishes) — Funny Foods was bound to founder  after the founder  died of malnutrition.


goods  (bad things vs. good things) — The cops had the goods  on Moe when they caught him with the goods  .


grade  (level vs. inclined) — They only grade  roads that have a steep grade  .


handicap  (advantage vs. disadvantage) — In golf, if you have a handicap  , it's your opponent who has the handicap  .


hysterical  (being funny vs. overwhelmed with fear) — When the turkey burst into flames, it was hysterical  how you got hysterical  .


incorporate  (establish vs. disappear in union) — Unable to get incorporated  , the village of Yo was incorporated  into the town of Ko.


last  (just ending vs. enduring) — Harry’s last  drink should last  him the whole night.


left  (gone away vs. remaining) — After the others left  the phone booth, only Basil was left  .


license  (permission vs. unbounded freedom) — Marsha didn’t need a license  to employ poetic license  .


livid  (red with anger vs. pale, gray-blue) — When Dopey turned livid  with anger, Sneezy turned livid  with fear.


mad  (in love with vs. very angry) — I’m mad  about you even when I’m mad  at you.


mean  (average vs. superior) — Mason is a man of mean  talents who plays a mean  game of handball.


off  (turn off vs. turn on) — Marly had the alarm clock rigged to go off  only when the lights were off  .


overlook  (to inspect vs. to neglect) — The window overlooks  a garden which is pleasant if you overlook  the dead plants.


oversight  (thing watched vs. thing ignored) — Ellen’s oversight  of dinner resulted in an oversight  when it came to utensils.


patronize  (favor with attention vs. showing insincere attention) — If you patronize  my restaurant, please be so kind as to not patronize  me.


peruse  (read quickly vs. to read carefully) — First peruse  the contract, then really peruse  it.


pit  (solid seed vs. open hole) — Paul pitched the peach pit  into the pithy pit  on purpose.


practice  (attempt to become skillful vs. skillful job) — After much practice  with the scalpel, Dr. Bones set up his own practice  .


presently  (now vs. later) — Presently  Santa is stuck in the chimney, but he will be here presently  .


refrain  (not do vs. do again, as in a song) — With rap music, please refrain  from the refrain  .


rent  (to let vs. to to lease) — Micky would like to rent  his house to a man who prefers to rent  than own.


rock  (an immovable thing vs. a tilting movement) — Jason stood like a rock  until Millie’s punch made him rock  back.


sanctioned  (approved vs. disappoved) — Merle was sanctioned  for cussing during a sanctioned  tennis match.


screen  (display vs. conceal from view) — The censors decided to screen  the film “Hardly Coming” behind a screen  .


seed  (remove seeds vs. plant seed) — Pa said, “Let me seed  the squash this time and you go seed  the fields.”


store  (keep vs. place to sell) — What antiques I can’t store  , I sell at the antique store  .


struck out  (hit vs. miss) — After Casey struck out  , he struck out  at the umpire.


tempered  (softened vs. hardened) — Delilah tempered  Samson’s tempered  strength by means of a shortcut.


terrific  (wonderful vs. horrible) — Except for his broken arm, Myron felt terrific  after his terrific  accident.


think  (believe a truth vs. be uncertain about a fact) — Gail thinks  you are an idiot, I think  .


time  (long duration vs. an instance) — Only time  will tell if Myrna will ever get to work on time  .


transparent  (invisible vs. obvious) — It was transparent  to all that she knew her blouse was transparent  .


trim  (prune vs. decorate) — After we trim  the tree to fit in the living room, we will trim  it with trivia.


tripped  (stepped lightly vs. stumbled) — Saul tripped  lightly down the sidewalk until he tripped  on a crack.


unpeeled  (with rind removed vs. still with rind) — You get an unpeeled  apple by peeling an unpeeled  apple.


weathered  (worn away vs. beared up well) — Whether the weathered  wreck weathered  the wind worried Weatherby.


wind up  (beginning vs. ending) — If you wind up  the toy too much it will wind up  broken.



The following list includes all the other auto-antonyms found on Internet sites.

Some may be questionable.

aboard  (alongside vs. inside)

adumbrate  (clarify vs. cast a shadow over)

against  (in the direction of and in contact with vs. in an opposite direction)

alight  (settle onto vs. dismount from)

anabasis  (a military advance vs. a military retreat)

anon  (soon vs. later)

apology  (admission of fault vs. formal defense)

argue  (try to prove by argument vs. argue against)

aught  (all vs. nothing)

biannual  (twice a year vs. once every two years

bimonthly  (twice a month vs. once every two months

biweekly  (twice a week vs. once every two weeks

certain  (definite vs. not specific, as in "he had a certain feeling")

charter  (grant for pay vs. use for pay

chuffed  (pleased vs. annoyed)

cipher  (zero vs. any number)

cognomen  (first name vs. last name)

comprise  (to contain; include vs. be composed of; consist of)

consult  (ask for advice vs. give advice)

contingent  (unpredictable vs. dependent on a known condition)

copemate  (partner vs. antagonist)

cork  (take out a cork vs. insert a cork into a bottle)

counterfeit  (a legitimate copy {archaic} vs. a copy meant to deceive)

critical  (opposed to {critical of} vs. essential to)

crop  (plant or grow vs. cut or harvest)

cull  ( select vs. reject)

cut  (get in (as in line or queue vs. get out (as in a school class)

deceptively  (more than it looks vs. less than it looks)

dike  (wall vs. ditch)

discursive  (proceeding coherently from topic to topic vs. moving aimlessly from topic to topic)

dollop  (a large amount vs. a small amount)

down  (hill {archaic} vs. valley)

dress  (put covering on {usually clothes} vs. take covering {usually skin} off)

dyke  (wall vs. ditch)

effectively:  (doing the equivalent of the real thing vs. doing the real thing and doing it well)

enjoin  (direct vs. forbid)

fearful  (causing fear vs. being afraid)

filter  (allow to pass through vs. prevent from passing through)

fine  (just meets minimum standards vs. considerably better than average)

finish  (kill vs. make perfect)

fireman  (firefighter vs. fire-stoker on a train or ship)

flesh  (add substance; flesh out vs. take away; clean a hide of flesh)

flog  (criticize harshly vs. promote aggressively)

garnish  (add something to, as food vs. take away from, as wages)

give out  (produce vs. cease functioning)

handicap  (advantage {in sport} vs. disadvantage; disability)

help  (assist vs. preven, as in "I can't help it if...")

hold up  (support; cope vs. hinder; delay)

homely  (ugly in U.S. vs. pleasant in U.K.)

impregnable  (impossible to enter vs. able to be impregnated)

inoculate  (protect against vs. infect with)

joint  (combine vs. separate, as meat)

lease  (lend; rent out vs. borrow; hire)

let  (hinder {archaic} vs. allow}

liege  (sovereign lord, loyal subject

literally  (actually vs. figuratively)

mark  (write vs. read, as in "mark my words")

model  (archetype; example vs. copy; replica)

moot  (debatable; arguable vs. academic; irrelevant)

mortar  (glue together vs. blow apart)

nervy  (showing calm courage vs. exitable)

out  (visible, as in "the stars are out" vs. invisible, as in "the lights are out")

peer  (an equal; fellow (e.g. classmate) vs. a nobleman; person of higher rank)

pitch  (erect and fix firmly in place vs. throw away)

pitted  (with the pit in vs. with the pit removed)

policy  (required activity without exception vs. an optional course of action)

populate:  (decimate the population {archaic} vs. increase the population)

prescribe:  (lay down a rule vs. become unenforceable)

priceless  (have a very high value vs. having no marked value)

protest  (object vs. affirm)

put  (lay vs. throw, as a shot put)

puzzle  (pose a problem vs. solve a problem)

qualified  (competent, as an applicant vs. less than competent, as a qualified reply)

quantum  (very small, as in physics vs. very large, a in "quantum leap")

quiddity  (essence vs. trifling point)

ravel  (tangle; complicate vs. disentangle; separate)

recover  (hide away; cover again vs. bring out)

reel  (wind onto vs. let out from)

release  (let go vs. hold on, as lease the property again)

replace  (take away, as worn carpet vs. put back, as the papers in a file)

repress  (hold back vs. put forth (press again)

reprove  (rebuke vs. support, as a scientific theory)

reservation  (a firm commitment to be somewhere vs. a hesitation about something)

reside  (stay put vs. change teams)

resign  (quit a contract vs. sign the contract again)

restive  (refusing to move, as a restive horse vs. restless; moving around)

restore  (bring something back to view vs. putting something back in storage)

riot  (violent disorder vs. revelry)

rival  (an opponent vs. a companion or associate {archaic})

root  (remove completely vs. become firmly established)

sanguine  (describing someone worked up into a bloody rage vs. someone calm about something)

scan  (examine closely vs. look over hastily

secrete  (extrude vs. hide)

set  (fix in place vs. flow; move on)

shank  (latter part of a period of time vs. early part of a period of time)

shop  (search with the intent to buy vs. search with the intent to sell)

sick  (unpleasant vs. wonderful {slang})

siren  (seductive sound vs. harsh sound)

skinned  (with the skin on vs. with the skin removed)

snap  (break into pieces vs. fasten together)

splice  (join together vs. cut in two)

stain  (color vs. discolor)

stem  (start or originate vs. stop or restrain)

stipulate  (request explicitly vs. agree to)

table  (propose in U.K. vs. set aside in U.S.)

temper  (soften; mollify, as justice vs. strengthen, as a metal)

tilt  (incline toward vs. charge against

topped  (put something on top vs. take the top off, as in trees

tube  (insert a tube in vs. enclose in a tube)

unbending  (rigid vs. relaxing

unqualified  (not qualified vs. very qualified)

variety  (one type vs. many types)

vegetative  (full of life vs. dull, apathetic, passive)

vernacular  (nonstandard speech vs. standard speech)

vital  (lively vs. deadly)

water  (pour water out vs. take on water)

wear  (endure through use vs. decay through use)

with  (alongside vs. against)

wraith  (ghost of a dead person vs. apparition of a living person)