What is a contronym?

Contronyms with Shurley.jpg

Have you ever noticed that several language arts terms have the letters o-n-y-m in them?  I’m talking about words like synonym, antonym, homonym, heteronym, acronym, etc.  Of course, the list goes on, but here’s what you need to know about all of these words:

Onym is actually a Greek root word that means “name.”  So, in context, when you see a word with this root, you can conclude that it names something; you just have to figure out what!      

Most 1st -8th grade curriculums purposefully teach students about synonyms and antonyms as a way to (a.) increase their vocabulary, (b.) improve their reading comprehension, and (c.) learn effective strategies to improve and expand their writing.  These two categories are not only imperative to learn about concepts in other subject areas; they are also tested on the SAT and GRE.

A synonym is the name of the category of words that mean the same or almost the same thing.  An example might include words like “intelligent” and “smart.”  An Antonym, on the other hand, is the name of the category of words that have opposite meanings like “hot” and “cold. “ 

The purpose of this blog is not to define every onym word for you, so allow me to fast forward to my big ah-ha moment…

As I continued to review the list of language arts related onym words, I stumbled on one that intrigued me: contronyms.   As a teacher, I had never taught this term much less required my students to learn about them or identify them in a sentence. That’s why I’m sharing them now! 

A contronym is the name of a category of words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same yet are opposite in meaning. They are described as words that are their own antonyms.  To further explain, let’s use the contronym bill as an example.

Contronym: bill

Description: You can have a $50 bill in your pocket, or you can receive a $50 bill for some sort of service you obtained.

Explanation: In the first example, “bill” means a piece of paper money; a $50 credit. In the second example, “bill” refers to an invoice you receive that tells you how much money you owe. In other words, it means that you have a $50 debt. Bill and bill are contronyms.

Rational: Even though the word “bill” looks the same and sounds the same in both sentences, it means the exact opposite in each. Bill describes money you can spend in the first example, while bill describes a debt that you owe in the second one.

You can give your students the knowledge, skills, and practice they need to know and use contronyms, starting with the list of contronyms below:

Contronyms with Shurley English.png

Grammar Time: What part of speech is the word THERE?

There with Shurley English.jpg

The word “there” is a commonly used word that can be difficult to classify because of the various roles it can play in a sentence.  There can be used as an adverb, pronoun, noun, or adjective, and sometimes as an interjection.  So, what’s the big deal about this word?

The truth is that it’s not always easy to determine how the word there is being used in a sentence. In fact, it can be downright confusing!  So, in order to figure it out, you have to look closely at how it’s being used in context.

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the word there shows up in a sentence as an expletive.   If you’re not familiar with this term, allow me to explain. An expletive is an “extra word” that is not grammatically related to the rest of the sentence.  Here’s an example sentence.  Read it carefully and locate the simple subject: 

There are some pencils in my desk drawer.

The word there is not the subject of the sentence; the simple subject is pencils.  There is being used as an expletive and serves to get the sentence moving.  Any time a sentence begins with the word there, the true subject will be farther on in the sentence, so don’t be fooled! 

Another way to determine if the word there is being used as an expletive is to rewrite the sentence without using it.  If you can rewrite it without losing any meaning, you will know you’re correct.   Notice how the sentence meaning does not change when I leave out the word there:

Some pencils are in my desk drawer.

Study the following guide to help you understand how to label and classify the various roles of the word there.  Then, remember that if it’s being used as the first word in a sentence, it could possibly be an expletive!

There with Shurley English.png

Use To vs Used To: What's the difference?

Use to vs used to with SHurley English.jpg

Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion with the way people use the idiomused to in a sentence.  Some write “use to and others write “used to?”  Do you know which one is correct? 

Use to and “used to cause confusion for a couple of good reasons.  First of all, they sound exactly the same when you say them out loud; however, one is correct and the other is often a mistake.  The second reason is because it can be used in the sentence as an adjective phrase or as a verb phrase. 

Before we step into usage quicksand, let’s quickly review idioms.  (You can also check out my previous blog on the subject entitled: What is an idiom?) “An idiom is an informal expression that cannot be understood simply by understanding its parts.  It is a figure of speech that has a separate meaning of its own, which is figurative and not literal.  When two or more words are expressed together to create a unique meaning that is different from the meaning of each of the individual words, an idiom is created.”

In order to understand how to use this idiom correctly when speaking and writing, let’s do a quick vocabulary check. 

Part 1: used to

As an adjective phrase, “used to” means “in the habit of” or “familiar with.”

Example:

Farmers are used to working outdoors in all seasons. 

(Farmers often work outdoors in the rain, snow, sleet, heat, and hail and are not bothered by it as much as people who don’t work outdoors.)

Used Tip 1 with Shurley English.png

Part 2: used to

As a verb phrase, “used to” or “did use to+ a verb means “did formerly; did in the past but not anymore. ---Usually used with an infinitive to tell about something past. 

Example:

Uncle Tim used to have a beard, but he shaved it off. 

(Uncle Tim once had a beard, but he doesn’t have one now.)

Used tip 2 with Shurley English.png

Part 3: use to

The only time that it is correct to use “use towithout the –d at the end is when the base form of the verb is used along with a negative or in a question.  That’s because the form of the verb required is infinitive.

Example: (Note that past tense is shown with the words did and didn’t.)

She didn’t use to ride her bike before noon.

Did Uncle Tim use to have a beard?

The next time you are confused about using “use to” or “used to,” remember to do this quick vocabulary check. You will be glad you did!