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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 fallA. 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."

Examples of obverse in a Sentence

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 obverse side will still feature the portrait of former President George Washington by Laura Gardin Fraser. Jordan D. Brown, Baltimore Sun, 3 Aug. 2023 The answer, perhaps, was shame: What Ernaux seemed to have understood from the start is that shame is the obverse side of truth. Rachel Cusk, New York Times, 2 May 2023 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
But the two scary-sounding facts have happy-sounding obverses. Dominic Pino, National Review, 10 Jan. 2024 Then, in an obverse of the way such situations usually go, in 1999 Thorn and Watt ankled the group but remained together as a couple, raising a family and occasionally releasing solo albums over the next 24 years. Jem Aswad, Variety, 21 Apr. 2023 Minnesota’s — is the obverse of current trends. Dennis J. McGrath, Star Tribune, 12 Oct. 2020 And if lack of activity means flimsier bones, researchers want to see if the obverse is true. Carl Engelking, Discover Magazine, 22 Dec. 2014 Barnacled and throttled, the underside of the Santa Monica Pier is the shadowed obverse of the cheery tourist destination above it. Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2021 For each year commencing in 2022 and running through 2025, the U.S. mint will issue five new reverse designs, and the obverse of the coin will still feature George Washington, but with a slightly different design from the previous quarter program. Isabela Raygoza, Billboard, 7 Feb. 2023 The obverse features the winged head of Victory, and the reverse shows a chariot drawn by four horses. Richard Jakiel, Discover Magazine, 26 June 2019 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

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obverse.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


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