16. Phantonyms & Contronyms

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 05 日 in Logology

A phantonym is a word or phrase that appears opposite in meaning to another word or phrase but isn’t, such as flammable and inflammable. In some cases, phantonyms describe related but sometimes distinguishable things. For instance, a valuable car may be expected to have high market value, while an invaluable experience needn’t have any market value.

  1. ahead/afoot

  2. badly/goodly

  3. famous/infamous

  4. hotheads/cold feet

  5. inception/exception

  6. in-laws/outlaws

  7. lowlands/high seas

  8. pertinent/impertinent

  9. undergo/overcome

  10. understand/underlie

  11. fat chance/slim chance

  12. quite a few/quite a lot

  13. shameful/shameless

  14. valuable/invaluable

Exercise: Please translate the following story into Chinese.

Because it was cold as hell and we were anxious, we had trouble deciding whether to slow down or to slow up, and then we decided to stand down before eating vegetarian meatballs. Charlie’s body was malfunctioning: his nose ran while his feet smelled. John thought he’d won the lottery but was informed that he had less than a slim chance; he had a fat chance. One man’s house burned up as another man’s burned down, requiring both to get in touch with insurance agents who asked them to fill out forms by filling them in. The first man lost quite a few valuable items, whereas the second man lost quite a lot.


Words with many meanings are common, but words with contrary or opposite meanings are unusual. Contronyms, a.k.a. Janus-faced words, are such two-faced words of confusion.

  1. aloha

hello: Aloha! I’m glad that I have arrived.

good-bye: I’m glad to be going home. Aloha!

  1. apology

admission of fault: Because Charlie didn’t appear to be remorseful, we didn’t accept his apology.

defense of one’s words or action: During his trial, Socrates gave an apology, defending not only his actions but also his way of life.

  1. below par

below average: Her performance on the Miller Analogies Test was below par for her major.

above average: The excellent golfer was used to shooting below par.

  1. bimonthly

every two months: This year’s second bimonthly meeting was in April.

twice a month (semimonthly): February’s bimonthly meetings will be on the first and the fourteenth.

  1. cleave

to separate: We used the ax to cleave the log.

to adhere firmly: The preacher exhorted the man and his wife to cleave unto each other.

  1. commencement

beginning: This, our first meeting, is the commencement of an important organization.

conclusion: The commencement exercises marked the end of the graduation.

  1. dress

to put items on: I needed to dress before leaving for work.

to remove items from: The cook needed to dress the chicken for cooking.

  1. garnish

to enhance or decorate: The cook garnished my entree with Chinese vegetable leaves.

to take a part of someone’s earnings in discharge of a debt: The court demanded that the man’s earnings be garnished to pay for overdue child support.

  1. go off

to begin: My alarm clock began to go off at seven o’clock in the morning.

to end: My lights must go off at nine at night.

  1. handicap

advantage: The weakest golfer was given a handicap because he needed the extra shots to complete against the strongest players.

disadvantage: His lack of experience was a handicap.

  1. impregnable

invulnerable: Because of his location in rough terrain and his powerful army, the dictator was impregnable to the rebels.

able to be impregnated: Beause the young woman was impregnable, she always used birth control.

  1. mean

average: A man of mean intelligence will probably find it difficult to teach advanced physics.

excellent: Joe Edley, the only person to have won America’s National Scrabble Championship three times, plays a mean game.

  1. put out

to generate: You put out a great effort.

to extinguish: The firefighters put out the fire.

  1. qualified

competent: We believed that the first candidate should get the job because she was the most highly qualified.

limited: The garage sale was a qualified success.

  1. screen

to view: The inspector began to screen the suitcases.

to conceal: The smuggler tried to screen the contraband to prevent being caught by the customs agent.

  1. seed

to plant seeds in land: We need to seed the land now if we are to have crops during harvest time.

to remove the seeds from fruit: The watermelon has been seeded.

  1. skinned

covered with or as if with skin: The fuselage and wings were skinned with steel or titanium alloys.

stripped of the skin, peel, rind, or other outer covering: The fish was skinned and dressed.

  1. table

to propose (in the UK): Parliamentary representatives tabled some popular bills to please their constituents.

to set aside (in the US): Members of the relevant congressional committee decided to table the bill until it could receive more support.

  1. trim

to add to: The kids loved to trim the Christmas tree.

to cut away: Please ask someone to trim your hair.

  1. weather

to hold up or bear: The ship weathered the storm.

to wear away: The tides increasingly weathered the rocks.

Exercise: Please identify the different meanings of the following contronyms.

  1. downhill

Now that we have public support and ample funds, implementing our projects is all downhill from here.

Unfortunately, her health went downhill.

  1. fast

The car was moving fast down the highway.

The glue held the sign fast.

  1. give out

We gave out our best effort.

Their energy gave out.

  1. hold up

Thanks for holding up your end.

His intervention is beginning to hold up our progress.

  1. overlook

The supervisor was paid to overlook the work to prevent problems.

They miscalculated because they overlooked some expenses.

  1. wind up

It was time to wind up the meeting.

If I’m going to use that watch, I’ll need to wind it up.

  1. livgently 說道:

    Nicely written!
    Checkout our blog post about Phantonyms:



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