con·​tro·​nym | \ ˈkän-trə-ˌnim How to pronounce contronym (audio) \
variants: or contranym
plural contronyms or contranyms

Definition of contronym

: a word having two meanings that contradict one another Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym. Sanction, for instance, can either signify permission to do something or a measure forbidding it to be done. Cleave can mean cut in half or stick together. A sanguine person is either hotheaded and bloodthirsty or calm and cheerful. Something that is fast is either stuck firmly or moving quickly.— Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990

called also antagonym, autoantonym, Janus word

Love words?

You must — there are over 200,000 words in our free online dictionary, but you are looking for one that’s only in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary.

Start your free trial today and get unlimited access to America's largest dictionary, with:

  • More than 250,000 words that aren't in our free dictionary
  • Expanded definitions, etymologies, and usage notes
  • Advanced search features
  • Ad free!

First Known Use of contronym

1962, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contronym

Time Traveler for contronym

Time Traveler

The first known use of contronym was in 1962

See more words from the same year

Statistics for contronym

Cite this Entry

“Contronym.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Comments on contronym

What made you want to look up contronym? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!