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ob·​verse äb-ˈvərs How to pronounce obverse (audio)
ˈäb-ˌvərs How to pronounce obverse (audio)
: facing the observer or opponent
: having the base narrower than the top
an obverse leaf
: constituting the obverse of something : opposite
obversely adverb


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ob·​verse ˈäb-ˌvərs How to pronounce obverse (audio) äb-ˈvərs How to pronounce obverse (audio)
: the side of a coin or currency note bearing the chief device and lettering
broadly : a front or principal surface
: a counterpart having the opposite orientation or force
their rise was merely the obverse of the Empire's fall A. J. Toynbee
also : opposite sense 1
joy and its obverse, sorrow
: a proposition inferred immediately from another by denying the opposite of what the given proposition affirms
the obverse of "all A is B" is "no A is not B" 

Did you know?

Heads or tails? If you called heads, obverse is the word for you. Since the 17th century, we've been using obverse for the front side of coins (usually the side depicting the head or bust of a prominent person). The opposite of this sense of obverse is reverse, the back or tails side of a coin. Since the 19th century, obverse has referred to an opposing counterpart or an opposite. Additionally, it can be an adjective meaning "facing the observer or opponent" or "being a counterpart or complement."

Example Sentences

Noun joy and its obverse, sadness We thought they would be pleased with our decision. We have learned, however, that the obverse is true.
Recent Examples on the Web
The case of the 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach then-President Trump in his term’s dwindling days, and now are disappearing from Congress, is a nearly obverse mystery. Robert Schlesinger, The New Republic, 5 Apr. 2022
The betting, of course, is that the probability of such a turn of events is deemed to be much lower than the obverse. Harry G. Broadman, Forbes, 1 Aug. 2022 In the case of your token, the obverse would have been made with the Sam Houston design, with the backs left blank to be cast with the buyer’s choice. Paula Allen, San Antonio Express-News, 12 Mar. 2022 There were other versions made, including tokens with the same or common obverse for the McKean-Eilers Dry Goods Co. of Austin and the Progress Laundry of Dallas and Waco. Paula Allen, San Antonio Express-News, 12 Mar. 2022 As required by law, the new quarters will keep George Washington’s likeness on the obverse, or heads side, of the coins. Washington Post, 12 Jan. 2022 This strategy is the obverse of the investment strategy known as dollar-cost averaging—buying shares at regular intervals. M. Todd Henderson, WSJ, 27 Dec. 2021 In On Animals, a new collection of old essays, veteran journalist Susan Orlean is almost the obverse of wonder-seeking naturalists like David Attenborough. Amy Brady, Scientific American, 9 Sep. 2021 First minted in 1907, the coin features an image of Lady Liberty striding forward on its obverse and an eagle in flight on its reverse. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 June 2021 The trite but Twitter-ready condition—must love dogs—stretched the challenge by choosing an image of a Shiba Inu, the most cat-like of pooches, for the coin’s obverse. David Lavie, Robb Report, 24 May 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obverse.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History



Latin obversus, from past participle of obvertere to turn toward, from ob- toward + vertere to turn — more at ob-, worth

First Known Use


circa 1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1658, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of obverse was circa 1656


Dictionary Entries Near obverse

Cite this Entry

“Obverse.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obverse. Accessed 6 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



: the side of something (as a coin) bearing the principal design or lettering
: a front or principal surface
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