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Contronyms (or contranyms) are words that have two contradictory meanings. They are also know as auto-antonyms which comes from the Greek roots ‘auto’ (self), ‘anti’ (against) and ‘onym’ (name) – literally meaning a word that is the opposite of itself. They have also been called Janus words (after the two-faced Greek mythical figure).

Most often these contradictory meanings have arisen from slang or their frequent use in sarcasm.


  • Match the contronyms to their contradictory meanings.
  • Write two sentences demonstrating two different meanings. For an extra challenge, use the word twice in one sentence showing the two different meanings.
  • Alternatively, illustrate the two meanings of the word.
ContronymMeaning 1Meaning 2
boltHeading to a destinationRemove fine particles
boundSprinkle with fine particlesFirmly fixed or attached
dustSecure with a barTo boycott
leftTo approveWear away
weatherQuickRestrained from moving
finishedVisible (as in stars)A disadvantage
handicapAn advantageEnded or destroyed
outStop from doingInvisible (as in lights)
refrainCompletedTo remove a covering
skinParticular typeTo start up
varietySuperior qualityRepeating
wind upA coveringSatisfactory or acceptable
fineTo endMany types
  • Language is constantly chosen. Have students work together to think of recently developed contronyms.
ContronymMeaning 1Meaning 2