According to multiple sources (1 and 2), the word "contra" can be employed as either a preposition or an adverb. From my perspective, however, there is a dearth of clear examples featuring this word in context. I am looking for input on its general usage, in addition to whether or not "contra" can/should be used in conjunction with "to," a la "contrary to," "counter to," etc.

  • I don't see contra anywhere since the Nicaraguan political context moved on. OED defines it as being used in pros and contras, but they've always been cons to me. Other than that, it's just a prefix - and by comparison with counter-, you'd hardly say it was "productive". – FumbleFingers Sep 9 '14 at 0:45
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    It is used regularly in accountancy, both as a noun and a verb, to indicate matching entries in books and records. I always struggled, whilst in the profession, as to the correct conjugation. Many accountants write the past tense as 'contra'd'. – WS2 Sep 9 '14 at 7:33
  • @FumbleFingers, I think I've heard people using it, as a straight replacement for "in contrast to...". For example, in written language just google the phrase "contra what you said" for zillions of examples. IMO, it's one of those words/sounds that people use because "it sounds Fancy" -- i.e., the person things they are talking french, using one of dem dar 'loaner words', or something. {Aside: is there a word for that phenomenon?} ... cont... – Fattie Sep 9 '14 at 8:20
  • ... It's impossible to google other examples like that, but, I do (unfortunately) think it's used fairly commonly (so, "contra Steve, let's do what John said", or "but contra that, we could get pizza" and so on.) I have no idea what formal language-part that would be described as. (Perhaps "semi-literate re-joiner" or something, I don't know.) – Fattie Sep 9 '14 at 8:21
  • @WS2, Joe: I forgot about the accounting context, which I'd always assumed was either a specialised Latin usage, or some kind of abbreviation. Looking closer in OED I see they do have an "adverbial" definition 2Ba: On the contrary, to the contrary, contrariwise (with just two cited examples - one from 1362 and one from 1806). I think it's at best "marginal" English, and therefore it's relatively meaningless to ask exactly what syntax/preposition support it allows or requires. If you really wanted to be "correct", it would probably be safest to simply avoid using the "word" at all. – FumbleFingers Sep 9 '14 at 12:41

It is widely used in legal English (well, Italian in my case...). If you're discussing a law topic, you usually cite a number of decisions or some author's opinion to support a point, to make a case for it. But other decisions might have ruled against that principle, or other authors might disagree with it, and in that case you would write "Contra" followed by the citation.

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