English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What's the distinction between "opposite" and "contrarian"? Are they basically synonymous but the latter is more suitable for written English?

share|improve this question
Did you mean "contrary"? – TimLymington Feb 27 '12 at 21:22
up vote 4 down vote accepted

They are not synonymous. Contrarian is a narrower term and refers to a person who takes a minority viewpoint which is opposite that of the majority (or it refers to those unorthodox beliefs themselves, eg "contrarian ideas"). They are both suitable in writing or speaking, but contrarian has less application because it is more narrowly defined. The word opposite doesn't contain in its definition what it is opposed to, whereas contrarian implies that the thing is opposed to the majority.

share|improve this answer

It's not really true to say contrarian is "more suitable for written English". As this NGram shows, contrarian is a relatively rare word:

enter image description here

(with estimated results counts contrarian:137,000 against opposite:78,500,000)

I've no doubt the vast majority of even that relative small number of usages will be in the noun sense. And in any case, means [someone] prone to adopt a contrary position, not simply [someone/something] opposing. So the short answer to OP's question is - no, they are not synonyms. In a very restricted sense, a contrarian attitude is also an opposing attitude, but that's about as far as it goes in terms of interchangeability.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.