I am looking for an example of extreme homonyms (same spelling different meaning). By extreme I mean drastically different in meaning. For example

"bow" - a weapon to shoot projectiles with

"bow" - the front of the ship

These two words are homonyms, but they are close in meaning as they reflect something being bent. I am looking for homonyms, which are almost antonyms.

Any thoughts?

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    Oversight (supervise / overlook), seeded (with seeds / without seeds), inflammable, "sanction" (approve / prohibit), left (remain / depart), dust (sprinkle / clean), etc etc etc. Look up autoantonym or contranym.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:13
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    The words you are looking for go by a variety of names; the one I most often use is heterophone; heteronym is also common, as is homograph. You should be able to find long lists of them on the internet; things like sow/sow (female pig/planting seeds), bass/bass (big string instrument/fish), pussy/pussy (kitty-cat/oozing pus) etc. See also this question and its answers.
    – 1006a
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:16
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    I don't think 'bow' and 'bow' have too different meanings - both are bent (such as archer bow or violin bow and 'take a bow'. Bow ties are quite curved too) Jul 21, 2017 at 14:23
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    I like ravel and ravel (tangle and untangle)
    – Jim
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:53
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    @marcellothearcane. You are correct, this is poor wording on my side. I used 'bow' to illustrate homonyms which are close in meaning, I wanted to emphasize that I would like to find something NOT like 'bow' homonyms Jul 21, 2017 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


While not antonymic, several have unrelated meanings.

Note: Several of these words, while spelled the same, differentiate meaning by having different pronunciations.

homonyms but not homophones

  • Tear - The liquid that flows out of a sad eye or a rip or breach in something, especially cloth.

  • Lead - The metal which alchymists attempted to turn into gold or the action of offering direction, or the person who performs that function, if used as a noun as in "This teller is the lead."

  • Wound - An injury to a person or animal or the action of turning or winding something in the past (he wound the watch.)

  • Wind The movement of air or the action of turning or winding something.

homonyms and homophones

  • Groom - a man about to be married or the person who cares for horses.

  • Lie - To deceive by telling an untruth or to rest one's body horizontally such that it is not supported by the feet.

  • Duck a quacking bird which waddles on webbed feet or the action of bending one's self (duck your head.)

  • box a cuboid container or a martial sport of fisticuffs.


One of my favourite incongruous pairings is cleave (to split) and cleave (to stick together).


I can literally only think of one (or two):

Literally - used to emphasize the truth and accuracy of a statement or description that is actually true - Factual.

Literally - used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not actually true (or possible) - Figurative.

First example: I got into a cab and the driver took it literally when asked to go straight across the traffic circle.

Second example: Of course, we got into a wreck! From that moment on, our worlds have literally been turned upside down.

This wasn't always possible until a few years ago when the figurative meaning of the word was added to the dictionary - due to its overuse (and misuse).

According to the dictionary, “literally” now also means “figuratively”

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    You have pulled a rabbit out of a hat to show that the common misuse of literally has redefined the mistake as its antonym. I'm thinking that when people use literally simply to emphasize "I really mean it," they are perhaps still relying on the original base meaning: It's physically true or at least virtually so. Jul 21, 2017 at 22:12
  • There are a handful of other examples of words which have adopted their opposite meaning over time. One such word is "let": consider Hamlet's "I'll kill the man who lets me!" meaning "I'll kill the man who stops me!".
    – Ketura
    Jul 21, 2017 at 22:12
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    Personally, I would say the two definitions of "literally" are not homonyms per se, but instances of polysemy. Jul 21, 2017 at 22:39

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