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You have to use two words that are each their own opposite (auto-antonyms, contronyms, contranyms or whatever you want to call it) in the same sentence. This means that each of the two words in used twice, and for each word, the two occurrences have meanings that are opposite (contradictory) (**or extremely different ** meaning they are so different one could argue they're opposites.) to each other. This sentence must be a grammatically correct English sentence.

It's ok to use minor variations on words such as plurals or conjugated verb forms.

The goal is to make it short (in terms of characters). The accepted answer will always be the shortest. To save me trouble, it'd be nice for you to post the number of characters in your sentence. Spaces and punctuation count; you can use this site to check.

Anti-loophole: the words you choose must each be used twice, once as one meaning and again as another.

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  • 11
    $\begingroup$ It's word golf! $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Dec 19, 2014 at 2:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By "opposite" do you just mean "different"? None of the current answers seem to me to have words that are opposite meanings. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2014 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ I downvoted because the answers being accepted use words that are nowhere near opposites. I understand that there's inherent ambiguity in any such challenge, but this is just unreasonable. $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Dec 20, 2014 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ @xnor Agreed, warspyking isn't following his own rules. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2014 at 8:24
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because open-ended puzzles are off-topic as of May 2019 $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Jul 21, 2021 at 18:50

14 Answers 14

21
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17 Characters

Using an archaic form of 'let', this ties with the currently first place answer:

Let be or be let.

  • Let: To allow OR to hinder (archaic).
  • Be: The way something already is OR to become different.

Translation: Allow things to stay as they are, or you will become hindered.

Arguably, we can shorten this by removing the 'or' (which flips the meaning of the sentence) and using an implied conditional:

15 Characters

Let be; be let.

Translation: If you allow things to stay as they are, then you will become hindered.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't think 17 would be topped. I can't believe we've come from 107 to just 15! $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ Wow. You just lost the winning title by 1 character. $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ You can trim this by one character by eliminating the semicolon - It would be the same as saying "Allow the word be to be hindered." $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Dec 20, 2014 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ True, but then I think the word 'be' would lose the contranym-ness of the current sentence (staying in an existing state vs. changing to a new future state). I do wonder, though, whether it would be grammatically acceptable to replace the semicolon+space with a single (unspaced) em-dash. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2014 at 19:17
33
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27 characters

Bolt me fast, or bolt fast.

We have:

  • bolt: secure in place, or dash away suddenly
  • fast: firmly fixed, or quickly

The intended meaning is "Either tie me down securely or run away quickly". As @xnor remarks: "I guess the speaker is a werewolf" (thanks for helping!).


If the above sentence wasn't ambiguous enough for you, we can take out the "me", leaving it implied. This has the hilarious consequence:

Bolt fast, or bolt fast.

Same meaning as above, but body language/intonation are necessary for this one to work. It helps if you imagine a movie scene between a male werewolf and a young girl reluctant to tie him up on a full moon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your first use of fast can be an adverb (which I think is more common than as an adjective), which saves chars as "Bolt him fast". $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Dec 19, 2014 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @COTO You're missing the "held in place" part. I'll try to come up with a more adequate explanation, but it's no different to how it's presented on auto-antonym lists (I just wrote "tightly" as a word to mentally replace "fast" with in the sentence, not implying that's all it means) $\endgroup$
    – Sp3000
    Dec 21, 2014 at 1:08
24
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52 Characters

The custom is to turn off custom alarms that go off.

The first "custom" means "standard", the second means "tailored". The first "off" means "disable", the second off means "engaged".

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    $\begingroup$ I really like this one :) $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2014 at 14:28
19
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17 characters

One bar bars one.

  • The first one is a single instance of something
  • The first bar is a place where you are served drinks
  • The second bar means to prohibit someone from being served
  • The second one is the general third person pronoun, referring to all people in general

You could imagine a context something like this:

One bar bars one, and suddenly one gets a reputation for being a troublemaker!

If you don't like the fact that the second bar has an s on the end (several other answers have "modified" forms like this, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist...), you could have

One bar did bar one.

which has an extra 4 characters, bringing the total to 21.

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  • $\begingroup$ Let's see if anyone beats this! $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 16:28
8
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60 characters

I couldn't help but help, so I left the pies that were left.

The first "help" means "resist;" the second "help" means "assist."

The first "left" means "went away;" the second "left" means "remaining."

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  • $\begingroup$ Good job Doorknob! Just to be clear, this type of puzzle IS allowed right? $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking Why wouldn't it be? If you want, you could post a question on meta. $\endgroup$
    – Doorknob
    Dec 19, 2014 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ I've seen a puzzle a while back which was closed due to the mechanics of the puzzles (described in the open-ended tag I created for this type of puzzle) $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 2:25
4
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20 characters

Tipped cop cops tip

...news at 11.

If articles are required, then 24 characters:

A tipped cop cops a tip.

"A local police officer, recently in the news for having been knocked over on his beat by a fleeing pickpocket, has been caught with his own hand in the proverbial cookie jar, stealing the end of a ceremonial flagstaff at headquarters."

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  • $\begingroup$ We have a new winner $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ Could you explain how the words are opposites? $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Dec 19, 2014 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I figured my last paragraph did so, @xnor. "Cop" is both "police officer" and "to pilfer"; "tip" is both "to overturn" and "the top". $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Dec 19, 2014 at 15:57
4
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27 Characters

Resign old, resign when old


33 Characters

Resign to resign old job when old

First resign means 'to quit'. Second resign means 'signing up again'.

First old means 'past'. The second old means 'later state'.

Note: Not the shortest, but shorter than some other answers.

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3
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107 characters

Originally I was puzzled by this question, but I soon puzzled it out and came up with:

At first I held fast as my alarm went off, but soon I had to turn it off, for morning was fast approaching.

That probably won't win the shortness award, but it's an example of fairly standard auto-antonyms. I could probably shorten it by removing/changing some words while still being grammatically correct, but it wouldn't sound very good to my ear.

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1
  • $\begingroup$ Now just to wait for someone to find a shorter one and best you! $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 19, 2014 at 1:58
3
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18 characters

Fix left, left fix

I fix (repair) the left object, but I left a fix (problem)

26 Characters

Left's right, right's left

Not exactly opposites, but in context:

The answer to the left question is right, the right question is left.

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1
  • $\begingroup$ I'm struggling to make the contrast of tenses in the first example make sense. It feels like it should either be fixed left, left fix or fix left, leave fix in order to be grammatically correct? $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2014 at 16:37
1
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Fix the rules, don't fix the rules. (35)

Fix (as in: for the love of English, stop changing) the rules (a set of immutable guidelines), don't fix (incessantly edit in vain attempts to repair) the rules (an ever-changing and unenforced bunch of suggestions that apparently no one is taking seriously).

That's all I got.

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why do I get the feeling this was in response to me loosening the guidelines too much... $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 20, 2014 at 15:44
1
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22 Characters

Riot left, left a riot

Riot 1: Violent disorder

Left 1: Going away

Left 2: Staying

Riot 2: Lots of fun

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1
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~ 44 characters ~

Obviously not short, but I think it's kind of cute:

Fine, I can't help it - I'll help you, fine gal!

Fine as in: acceptable, just barely satisfactory / exceptional, very nice

Help as in: prevent, stop / the 'normal' help

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0
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Infamous depressed depressed Infamous 35 characters.

I think that infamous can mean both well known or not popular. Depressed means sad or a button pressed in for a positive response.

So a famous person who is depressed presses the depressed button that says Infamous on it.

This has a lot of letters, but maybe it can lead us to other shorter words that can have opposite meanings.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the "X depressed depressed X" structure, though I'm not sure the second infamous works so well. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2014 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ As @stars said, not really sure if this fits well. We have a 10 character sentence already, can you beat that by any chance? $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 20, 2014 at 14:59
0
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Worn retired retired worn 24 characters

Worn - used up retired - stopped working retired - did work to change a tire Worn - in use as clothing

Maybe someone can make this into a sentence. It seems close to an answer.

Thanks,

Kevin

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1
  • $\begingroup$ Could you please emphasize on what the sentence actually is, and what each word means? I'm having trouble reading the answer. $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 20, 2014 at 14:56

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