We all know that English can be a complicated language. This counts double (is twice as true) when it comes to contronyms. Contronyms, also called Janus words, are words that have two distinct (different), opposite meanings. One word having opposite meanings can be pretty confusing if you’re learning English, as (because) you can only figure out the meaning through context (the words/meaning around it).

While contronyms can be tricky, we’re here to help! This week, we’ve decided to look at some more common Janus words along with both meanings and examples to help you out. Learn these common contronyms and add them to your vocabulary!


Meaning #1: an admission (saying, acceptance) of error for an action

Meaning #2: a statement of defense for an action

Apology can be a tricky contronym, since when you usually hear this word, it’s because someone is saying sorry for something they did. However, apology can also be a defense of something that someone did.

For example:

  • The politician had to make a public apology for lying. (meaning #1)
  • I read a book last month that was an apology for war. It was very interesting, but I didn’t agree with it. (meaning #2)


Meaning #1: to secure (fasten, make stable) something in place

Meaning #2: to run away from something; to flee

Have you ever had to secure something down so that it doesn’t move around? Or have you ever seen an animal run away from something very suddenly (fast)? Then the contronym bolt is the word that you’re looking for!

For example:

  • The table was bolted to the deck of the ship so that it didn’t slide around. (meaning #1)
  • The deer bolted into the forest when it heard a loud noise. (meaning #2)


Meaning #1: to restrain (hold back) something

Meaning #2: to head (go) to a destination

The word bound is very similar to the word bolt, in that one meaning has to do with movement, and the other meaning has to do with being restrained from movement. However, where bolt in the sense of running away means to move very quickly, bound has nothing to do with speed. It just means that you are moving in a certain direction.

For example:

  • He bound the sofa to the top of the car with rope so he could drive it home safely (meaning #1)
  • I’m homeward bound for the holidays! I can’t wait to see my family. (meaning #2)


Meaning #1: to remove fine particles from a surface

Meaning #2: to add fine particles to a surface

Do you dust your home often? Do you remove (take away) the fine particles that accumulate (gather) on surfaces? This may be the meaning of the contronym dust that you know best, but dust can also mean to add fine particles to something.

For example:

  • dust my apartment every week, but it’s my least favorite chore (cleaning work in the house)! (meaning #1)
  • She dusted the cake with powdered sugar. (meaning #2)


Meaning #1: to depart (to leave)

Meaning #2: to remain

One of the best ways to think of this contronym is attending (going to) a party. After you have left the party (meaning #1), how many people are left (meaning #2) there? Keep in mind that meaning #1 is the past tense of the word leave!

For example:

  • left the park at 9 p.m. when it started to get dark. (meaning #1)
  • After the game ended, there weren’t many people left in the stadium. (meaning #2)


Meaning #1: to withstand (live through, manage) something

Meaning #2: to wear (get older) away

Weather is a funny (strange) word, since both meanings of this contronym are typically used in relation to the more common meaning of weather, which has to do with wind, rain, snow, storms, etc. This can make it extra confusing sometimes, but once you’re used to the different meanings, we’re sure you’ll be able to tell the difference easily!

For example:

  • Thank goodness our house weathered the hurricane and is still standing! (meaning #1)
  • The furniture had a weathered look, as if it had been outside for years. (meaning #2)

Have you heard of any of these contronyms before? Which ones have you used before? Share with us in the comments below!

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Check out these other popular blogs: Baking VocabularyInternet Vocabulary You Should KnowEnglish Words Used in German, or these Conversation Topics to Avoid in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and won’t bolt if you ever have a grammar question!

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