par·a·dox | \ ˈper-ə-ˌdäks , ˈpa-rə- \

Definition of paradox 

1 : a tenet contrary to received opinion

2a : a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

b : a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true

c : an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises

3 : one (such as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases

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Did You Know?

The ancient Greeks were well aware that a paradox can take us outside our usual way of thinking. They combined the prefix para- ("beyond" or "outside of") with the verb dokein ("to think"), forming paradoxos, an adjective meaning "contrary to expectation." Latin speakers picked up the word and used it to create their noun paradoxum, which English speakers borrowed during the 1500s to create paradox.

Examples of paradox in a Sentence

For the actors, the goal was a paradox: real emotion, produced on cue. —Claudia Roth Pierpont, New Yorker, 27 Oct. 2008 Again and again, he returns in his writing to the paradox of a woman who is superior to the men around her by virtue of social class though considered inferior to them on account of her gender. —Terry Eagleton, Harper's, November 2007 She was certainly far from understanding him completely; his meaning was not at all times obvious. It was hard to see what he meant for instance by speaking of his provincial side—which was exactly the side she would have taken him most to lack. Was it a harmless paradox, intended to puzzle her? or was it the last refinement of high culture? —Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881 Mr. Guppy propounds for Mr. Smallweed's consideration the paradox that the more you drink the thirstier you are and reclines his head upon the window-sill in a state of hopeless languor. —Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-53 It is a paradox that computers need maintenance so often, since they are meant to save people time. As an actor, he's a paradox—he loves being in the public eye but also deeply values and protects his privacy. a novel full of paradox
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Recent Examples on the Web

In an apparent paradox, except for New Zealand, the five others are based on fossil fuels. Washington Post, "6 major wealth funds agree to encourage greener economy," 6 July 2018 At some level, this double standard reflects a difficult and possibly irresolvable paradox of campaign coverage. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Is Doing Same Thing He Demanded Clinton Be Locked Up For," 22 May 2018 There are two lyrics in Beyoncé’s oeuvre that sum up the paradox that makes her so astonishingly compelling. Constance Grady, Vox, "Beyoncé is a paradox. That’s what makes her an icon.," 16 June 2018 Although robots have since improved at seeing and walking, the paradox still governs: robotic hand control, for instance, is closer to the Hulk’s than to the Artful Dodger’s. Tad Friend, The New Yorker, "How Frightened Should We Be of A.I.?," 7 May 2018 Take, for example, a recent hypothesis called the predation paradox. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, "Foxes and Coyotes are Natural Enemies. Or Are They?," 9 Mar. 2018 But being a twin means your life is full of paradoxes and contradictions. Emily Farra, Vogue, "My Sister’s Keeper," 5 Feb. 2018 And so another Puerto Rican culinary legend has left a hole in the bicultural paradox of the diaspora’s need to feel connected in our world of ni de aqui, ni de alla. Illyanna Maisonet, San Francisco Chronicle, "The quest to preserve Puerto Rican culture with food," 21 May 2018 This transformation highlights an old paradox: Why does a reflection keep the upward part of an object up (and the downward part down) but interchange left and right? Frank Wilczek, WSJ, "The Peculiar Power of Nature’s Left and Right," 5 July 2018

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

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First Known Use of paradox

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for paradox

Latin paradoxum, from Greek paradoxon, from neuter of paradoxos contrary to expectation, from para- + dokein to think, seem — more at decent

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Statistics for paradox

Last Updated

10 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for paradox

The first known use of paradox was in 1540

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More Definitions for paradox



English Language Learners Definition of paradox

: something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible

: someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite

: a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true


par·a·dox | \ ˈper-ə-ˌdäks \

Kids Definition of paradox

1 : a statement that seems to say opposite things and yet is perhaps true

2 : a person or thing having qualities that seem to be opposite


par·a·dox | \ ˈpar-ə-ˌdäks \

Medical Definition of paradox 

: an instance of a paradoxical phenomenon or reaction

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