Alright, here's the best way I can explain this: if, hypothetically, the word pairs (love, loathe) and (friend, fiend) were cognates (i.e. they shared an etymological ancestor), they would be precisely what I'm looking for. These pairs aren't cognates, of course, but what I'm trying to get at is that if they were, they'd fit my criteria: antonyms that are also cognate to one another.

So, now that that's explained, I have to ask: does anyone know of a real, non-hypothetical duo of words of the type I'm describing? Also, I realize this is the English language board, but if for some reason anyone happens to know of an example of this from a language besides English, please do consider chiming in anyways. Failing that, really any other relevant info or insight would also be a huge help, as I'm pretty much at a loss for leads on this one.

Thanks in advance~


NOTE: as far as this specific request is concerned, I'm not interested in either:

  • contranyms/auto-antonyms (e.g. fast can mean both "quick" and "unmoving")
  • antonyms that only differ in their affix (e.g. attach, detach; careful, careless; etc.)

Those two things aside, however, I'm really just looking for any two cognates with contrasting meanings. Whether they're direct, binary opposites (e.g. true, false) or a more subjective sort of opposites (e.g. float, sink), I'm all ears. I'd even say feel free even to compare words across different parts of speech (e.g. alive, death) – just so long as they're English cognates whose definitions clash with each other, that's what I want to find at least one veritable example of, if only to say that I can.

***Update! Here's what I have so far:
black and blank from PIE *bhel- (h/t John Lawler)
shirt and skirt from PIE *sker- (h/t Xanne)
potion and poison from PIE *peh- / *po(i)- (h/t Matthew Roberts)
guest and host from PIE *gʰóstis / *ghos-ti- (my own discovery)

  • 3
    Like black and blank, you mean? Aug 6, 2020 at 20:40
  • 4
    Cognates within a single language, or doublets, may have meanings that are slightly or even totally different. For example, English ward and guard (<PIE *wer-, "to perceive, watch out for") are cognates, as are shirt (garment on top) and skirt (garment on bottom) (<PIE *sker-, "to cut"). In some cases, including this one, one cognate ("skirt") has an ultimate source in another language related to English,[5] but the other one ("shirt") is native.[6] From Wikipedia, Cognates, section on Doublets.
    – Xanne
    Aug 6, 2020 at 20:53
  • 1
    Cleave (intransitive) -> (i) to cling or adhere to something - The building cleaved to a narrow strip of rock; (and figurative: The old man cleaved to his wife.) (ii) Transitive: to cut apart using a blow from a sharp instrument. He cleaved the rope with a blow from his sword.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 6, 2020 at 21:16
  • 1
    Really appreciate all the responses! Pairs like (black, blank) and (shirt, skirt) are just the sort of thing I was after, so I'm psyched that posting on here is already paying off. Oh, and since my note at the bottom where I specify sorts of words I'm not interested in might have been a tad vague, I just want to mention that I edited it for clarity. Aug 7, 2020 at 18:05
  • 1
    Fox, vixen. (male/female)
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 8, 2020 at 2:52

2 Answers 2


Just thought of another possible example: ward and guard. There are quite a few w- words in English that have a French gu- doublet: warranty and guarantee, warden and guardian, William and Guillaume, war and guerre. From what I can gather, the Germanic w- is the older sound, the gu- variations developing later in France, and introduced into English with the Norman invasion.

But for our purpose: guard means to defend, whereas a ward is someone who is being defended (as in a “ward of court”). Like my previous suggestions, these words aren’t quite antonyms, but they do have opposing meanings. Sort of.


I love this kind of thing. I came across cognates and doublets when studying linguistics at university. I like Phil Sweet’s suggestion of fox and vixen. I can only think of a couple of suggestions, and I’m not entirely sure they will meet your criteria, Kyle O’Brien, but I’ll post them for what they’re worth (if anyone is still following this thread).

  • potion / poison—my (admittedly rather thin) argument being that poison is always something harmful, lethal, whereas potions are, or rather were, usually curatives, concocted back in the day by the local white witch of the village to treat some ailment or other;

  • cannabis / hemp / canvascannabis is the plant cultivated for its medicinal and recreational properties; hemp is the material made from the plant, which contains no cannabinoids; and canvas, a more general term for cloth or fabric, also happens to derive from the same root (Greek: kannabis) so I thought I would add it as well.

  • Thanks so much for all the suggestions! I must say potion / poison is probably my favorite of the lot. Incidentally, I remember reading that in most every other Germanic language, the reflex of Proto-Germanic *giftiz is actually a word for "poison" (German Gift, Swedish gift, Frisian jefte, etc), whereas "gift" obviously has a much different meaning in English. Dutch even has the words gift ("gift") and gif ("poison") as doublets, crazily enough. Funny how poison seems to lend itself to all sorts of lexical weirdness, huh? Feb 17, 2021 at 20:19

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