Contrast Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Language naturally evolves. Words change in meaning, spelling, and pronunciation as time goes on, influenced by cultural events, new technologies, and many other factors. 

The word contrast is a perfect example of this evolution. It’s a relatively simple word, but it has multiple definitions, some newer than others. 

So, today’s word of the day is contrast. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the word contrast, its definitions, its history, and how to use it. Let’s get started. 

What’s the Definition of Contrast?

You probably know at least one of the definitions for the word contrast, but this word comes in a few forms, each with its own definition or definitions. Let’s break down the definitions of each of the word’s various forms. 

First, let’s look at contrast as a noun. The noun form is pronounced ˈkɒntræst, emphasizing the first syllable. Here are the definitions: 

  • An observable difference or degree of difference between multiple subjects
  • The comparison of one object to another 
  • A juxtaposition between two aspects of something, particularly in a work of art 
  • A setting in photo editing software that can change the difference between light and dark pixels, making for a higher or lower range of colors in an image

As you can see, there are several possible definitions that somebody can invoke when they use the word contrast in a sentence.  They could refer to a difference between two things, a comparison being made, or intentional and artistic juxtaposition. The meaning will change with the given context in which it is used. 

In its verb form, the word contrast is pronounced kənˈtræst, emphasizing the second syllable. It has multiple definitions as well, which vary slightly from the transitive to the intransitive form of the word. 

Here’s the definition for the transitive form: 

  • To compare two or more subjects to highlight the differences between them 

Here is the definition of the intransitive form:

  • To be different from another thing 

When the transitive form is used, it is normally a third party that is taking the time to compare the differences between two things. When the intransitive form is used, it is to say that one thing contrasts with another thing. 

Where Did the Word Contrast Come From? 

To find the word’s history, we need to look a little into its linguistics. The word contrast takes its origins back in the Latin language. The Medieval Latin word contrastare combines the Latin root stare, meaning “stand,” and the Latin contra-, meaning “against.” So, contrastare literally means “to stand against.”

From Latin, the word eventually made its way into Italy through the Italian contrastare, and it took a robust form towards the end of the Middle French period. The French contraster is the verb form, and contraste is the noun form. 

In the 17th century, contrast finally made its way into the English language in its current form. During this time, it was only understood to be a verb in the transitive sense, meaning that a person could contrast one thing with another. 

By the 18th century, the word had gained popularity and was starting to be used often when describing art. The word eventually adapted, attaining a noun form as well. 

By the 20th century, the use of contrast began to increase dramatically, especially with the invention of photography and, later, photo editing. There became a photo editing setting called contrast with modern digital photo editing technology. 

Contrast adjusts the difference between two pixels that are next to each other. So by increasing the contrast in a picture, you can increase the color spectrum available in the picture, make colors seem brighter or darker, or lower the contrast and make the colors more similar, giving the photo a muted feel.

What Are Some Example Sentences for Contrast?

To clarify the word contrast and its definitions, here are some example sentences using all of its forms. 

I enjoy the contrast of the deep rich caramel with the light saltiness. It makes for an amazing candy!

In sharp contrast to the slow pace of my small hometown, New York is like a whole new world of hustle and bustle.

The abstract nature of Van Gogh’s shapes is in stark contrast to his perfect understanding of color and how to use it to evoke certain emotions. 

When I took this photo, it was a little dark, so I played with the brightness and contrast to bring out the image more. 

As we compare and contrast the two books, pay close attention to the protagonists and their character development throughout the narrative.

The dark, jagged mountain contrasts boldly with the swirly blue sky.

Are There Any Collocations for Contrast?

There are several important collocations for the word contrast. Because this word is so common, many adverbs and adjectives are used in tandem with it. Here are some important collocations for contrast. 

  • Sharp contrast
  • Stark contrast
  • Beautifully contrast
  • Dramatically contrast
  • Direct contrast
  • Striking contrast
  • Interesting contrast

What Are the Synonyms for Contrast? 

Here are some synonyms for the word contrast that you might find in a thesaurus. 

  • Dissimilarity
  • Comparison
  • Contradiction
  • Divergence
  • Unlikeness
  • Differentiation
  • Dissimilitude
  • Contradict
  • Diverge
  • Vary 

What Are the Antonyms?  

These are some antonyms for the word thesaurus.

  • Agreement
  • Harmony
  • Similarity
  • Harmonize
  • Agree

A Full Understanding

Although the word contrast has multiple definitions and forms, it is a common and important word to understand. And now you have a clear picture of what contrast means, how it came to be in American English, and how to use it. 

So go use this word in your writing and your conversations. If you ever need a refresher, just return to this article for the information you need. 


Contrast | Cambridge English Dictionary 

Contrast English Definition and Meaning | Lexico 

Digital Photo Contrast | Science Project | Science Buddies