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Laurie Stevens Asks Contra-What??

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. You can find out more about her on her website,, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

As if writing isn’t taxing enough, words exist that turn us on our heads. They’re called “contronyms,” and once you start looking for them, it’s hard not to keep looking — and laughing.

Take the word “sanction,” for example. It can mean to penalize something or approve of it.  It gets confusing. Especially when used in politics. What about “dust?” You can dust something clean like the furniture, or you can dust an object with some kind of product (i.e. dust crops, give a baby a dusting of powder). I sympathize with folks trying to learn English. As if two, too, and to isn’t bad enough, the following will make your head spin.

Photo of dancers illustrating cleaving together for Laurie Stevens' description of contranyms
Cleaving together

Here’s a quick list:

  1. LEFT: Who left the room… And who was left?
  2. SEED: Did you seed the tomato or seed the lawn?
  3. STONE: If it’s legal to stone a peach, can you stone a person? What about if they’re stoned?
  4. TRIM: Are you adding decorations to something or are you removing them?
  5. CLEAVE: Are you clinging to someone or severing your relationship with a sharp knife?
  6. FAST: Are you holding fast, or are you running fast? Or are you simply not eating?
  7. OFF: Please turn off your alarm when it goes off.
  8. OUT: Darn, the lights are out, but at least we can see how many stars are out.
  9. BOUND: I was bound for New Orleans until a run-in with law bound me in chains.
  10. FINISHED: I finished my novel. It’s complete, but it finished me off.
  11. WEATHER: I admire the way you weathered the argument, however, you do look a bit weathered from it.
  12. GARNISH: How can you garnish your food if they garnish your wages?
  13. MODEL: You look like a model. Then again, you might just be a model of a model.
  14. HELP: I had to help the old man cross the street. I couldn’t help it.
  15. CLIP: Could you please clip the papers together and then clip them off at the dotted line?
  16. SCREEN: I’m going to screen a movie, but if you find it offensive I will screen off the screen.
  17. TOSS OUT: I just wanna toss out an idea, which you can use or toss out.
Photo for Laurie Stevens of stone with the words Stoned... Again?

And last, but not least,

FLOG: I’m going to flog my new book but if my shameless self-promotion gets too blatant, please don’t flog me.

Contronyms. You gotta love ‘em. I could put out more words but you might get put out. I could strike a chord with you or strike out (and then you might strike me). Okay, I’ll stop.

Laurie Stevens

Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. Laurie lives in the setting of her books, the hills outside of Los Angeles with her husband, two snakes, and a cat. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    What a fun post, Laurie. No, I wouldn’t be put out if you put out more contronyms, a combination of homonyms and antonyms. All these, plus homophones, are good to learn to increase what my students called our “word power”!

    1. Avatar
      Laurie's Story

      Thanks, Sherill. I didn’t know what they were called (and didn’t know that many existed!) Word Power – I’ll have to remember that.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Oh, my gosh, Laurie. You just made my day. Thank you for the belly laugh!

  3. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Very fun list. The English language is endlessly exciting and fun but challenging for non-native speakers learning it.

  4. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Thanks, I needed that! 🙂 Makes me glad I don’t have to learn English at this late date.

  5. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    How funny! I always wonder at the word forensics: scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime. Or forensics: the collective term for both speech and debate. Go figure! Thanks for the food for thought!

    1. Avatar
      Laurie story

      Did not know the two meanings behind forensics. Thanks for informing me!

  6. Avatar
    Donna Rewolinski

    What a fun post. I giggled at some of the examples. I work with many people from around the world and at times I’ve been asked to explain what I’m saying like, “I need to ‘break’ a dollar’. This was great to read. Thanks

  7. Avatar

    Clever topic that has me thinking…and laughing at our “temperamental” language.

  8. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    Hahahaha! Hilarious, Laurie! I didn’t know there was a term for those kinds of words, but I deal with them every day when I do crossword puzzles. “Contest” for example is a clue that comes up a lot.

  9. Avatar
    Laurie’s story

    I must have missed “contest,” which is a fun word because of its 2 very different meanings. Thanks for pointing it out.

  10. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Such a cute post, Laurie. I really enjoyed it. I’ll start looking for contronyms now!

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