Are there (m)any Chinese words that are their own antonyms? Similar to English "terrific", "wicked", etc. (which originally had negative meanings and now have positive meanings).

I imagine that as Chinese words are so heavily tied to their etymology (and the meaning of the characters used to write them), "auto-antonyms" would be rare???

3 Answers 3


It's sometimes refered to in the traditional scholarship as '反训.' 钱锺书 has an extensive discussion of it in his 《管锥编·周易正义·论易之三名》.


Not sure if this is exactly what you're asking, but 厉害 (li4hai) can have both a good or bad meaning depending on the context. For example, if a student says a teacher is li4hai they probably mean strict. If you do something and demonstrate great ability, someone might say, "Wow! You're really li4hai!"


Yes there are a lot, very often it depends on the context and how you say it (like the tone).

For example: 讨厌 means dislike, but can mean like some times, such as in: 真是个小讨厌 (used wen describing my little noisy baby but means I really like my baby, not dislike).

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