The Meaning of On the Contrary: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the idiom on the contrary means? This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the phrase on the contrary, including its meaning, origin, synonyms, useful sentence examples, and more!

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What does the phrase on the contrary mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary and other dictionary apps, the English language phrase on the contrary is used to imply that something that has just been said is not true, that the opposite is true, or that the person using the phrase on the contrary has a difference of opinion than what has just been stated. This phrase could be used after someone expresses an unfavorable or contrary opinion. In American English, this most commonly means that someone is opposed to what has just been said. In British English, the phrase on the contrary means “quite the reverse” or “not at all.” These meanings are very similar but still distinct.

The phrase on the contrary is considered polite and can be used in a variety of different circumstances, from casual discussions about someone’s favorite movie to intense debates on politics or other touchy subjects. For example, someone could say, “Dan’s favorite movie is Harry Potter.” Dan could then reply, “Actually, on the contrary – my favorite movie is Twilight.” This would be an example of a casual way in which to use the phrase on the contrary. However, Dan is a lawyer and is negotiating a contract for his client. When the other lawyer he is negotiating with tells him his client deserves less, he reminds the other lawyer, “On the contrary, my client’s quote is far higher than this and she is taking a pay cut as the contract stands.” This phrase is very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of different circumstances.

What is the etymology of the phrase on the contrary?

According to Etymonline, the word contrary came to be in the mid-14th century to mean “opposite, opposed to, or extremely unlike.” This adjective comes from the Anglo-French contraire and Old French contrarie. These come directly from the Latin contrarius, meaning opposite or reverse, which stems from the Latin contra meaning “against.” The word contrary has been used as a noun since the late 13th century. The phrase on the contrary has been used since around the year 1400, though it began as the phrase “in the contrary.” Dictionary states that “on the contrary” has been used since the mid-1800s.

What are synonyms and antonyms to the phrase on the contrary?

If one wanted to use a word or phrase that means the same thing as the phrase on the contrary, they would use what is called a synonym. A synonym is any word or phrase that has the same meaning as a given word or phrase. Someone might choose to use a synonym in order to expand their own vocabulary or too avoid repeating themselves. This list of synonyms is provided by Thesaurus.

  • in reverse
  • about-face
  • again
  • inversely
  • contra
  • the opposite way
  • oppositely
  • on the other hand
  • contrarily
  • conversely
  • reversed
  • backwards
  • contra
  • the other way around
  • far from it
  • vice versa
  • upside down
  • turn about
  • contrary
  • contrariwise
  • mutatis mutandis

However, if someone wished to use a word or phrase that meant the opposite of the phrase on the contrary, they could use an antonym. An antonym is any word that has the opposite definition as a given word or phrase. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • according to
  • sympathetic
  • agreeable
  • accordant
  • similarly
  • matching
  • furthermore
  • consonant
  • harmonious
  • all of a piece
  • thus
  • in addition
  • correspondingly
  • so
  • equable
  • congruous
  • logical
  • alike
  • congenial
  • conforming with
  • too
  • equivalently
  • like
  • likewise
  • coherent
  • then as well

How can the phrase on the contrary be used in a sentence?

The phrase on the contrary is very versatile and can be used in a plethora of different scenarios to refer to something that is the opposite of what has just been stated, or to provide a contrasting opinion. In this first example, Julie is talking to Catherine and a couple of their other friends about the people that they have been in relationships with.

Catherine: Well, I think Julie knows better than any of us what it’s like to go through a bad breakup, since she’s had so many.

Julie: That actually isn’t true at all. I’ve only been in one relationship, and it ended on decent, mutual terms. Fred and I are still friends.

Catherine: Oh, well, I mean that you’ve hooked up with so many different people, you know what it’s like to move quickly.

Julie: On the contrary, Catherine. I don’t know what you’re implying, but I have only ever hooked up with people I’ve been in relationships with. Which is one person, as previously stated.

Catherine: Well with the way you dressed in New York, I just figured.

Here, Julie uses the phrase on the contrary to defend herself against Catherine’s inflammatory insults and accusations, and to show that Catherine’s insults are the opposite direction of Julie’s actions. In this next example, Julie will use the phrase on the contrary with her teacher.

Mr. Farrell: Julie, did you let Evan copy off of your homework? It’s awfully similar, and he hasn’t been doing too well this year. You’re top of the class. I want to make sure there’s no funny business going on.

Julie: On the contrary, Mr. Farrell. Evan actually asked me to tutor him. I can show you the texts. I promise, I would never let anyone cheat off of me. Evan really improved during our sessions.

Overall, the phase on the contrary means that something is the opposite of something. If someone says this in response to a statement, it implies that said statement is not true. This phrase is often used to correct someone or to share a difference of opinion. This phrase can be used both casually and formally, in discussions about anything, from ice cream flavors to governmental rule. This phrase is very versatile and is commonly used in American English and British English.