Making Sense of English Grammar: 5 English Words That Mean Their Opposite

English teachers and grammarians alike were literally upset over how the word literally came to literally mean the opposite of its meaning, causing their faces to literally melt.

That's right, literally is used "to emphasize the truth and accuracy of a statement" or is "used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible."

That literally doesn't make sense.

But this isn't the first word in the English language to mean its opposite.

5 Words in English That Mean Their Opposite

Cleave. The Bible teaches husbands and wives to "cleave unto each other," meaning they should join themselves together, and not sever each other with a meat cleaver or other sharp instrument, which is another meaning for cleave.

Sanction. You can impose sanctions on an offending entity, but you would never impose sanctions on an institution that's been sanctioned. That's because to sanction means "to punish" and "to give official permission to."

Trim. Remember when you were 11 and your mom asked you to trim the table in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner so you got out the saw and cut 14 inches of the table? What your mom should have told you was trimmeans either "adding" or "taking away." Sawdust in the turkey could have been easily avoided.

Seed. Everyone knows what a seed is. It's those tiny things that turn into flowers, plants, vegetables, fruits, and a few other things. But what if you want to get rid of them, like remove them from a watermelon or tomato or apple? You would simply seed the watermelon or tomato or apple. But what if you wanted to grow grass? Then, you would seed the lawn. That's because the verb to seed means "to add seeds" or "to remove seeds."

Resign. When the office personnel read that the evil boss was resigning at the end of the month, half the office rejoiced and the other half wept. That's because resigning means "to quit" and it means the opposite, "to sign again."

One Word Whose Opposite Means the Same

Although the word inflammable doesn't quite fit the criteria of this literally amazing list of English words that mean their opposite, it does cause some confusion. That's because inflammable means "easily set on fire," which is the same exact meaning as flammable.

In other words, don't light a match around anything that is flammable or inflammable.

It might literally save your life.

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Dave Child

Dave is the founder of, and has been building websites since the early 90s. He's one of those fortunate people who gets to do what he loves for a living.


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