Antonyms are pairs of opposite words, like “large” and “small.” Most English adjectives have antonyms, but there is a small group of English words called “auto-antonyms,” or words that are their own opposites. A little practice with these special words can take the confusion out of hearing them used in everyday language.
Let’s begin with the word “left.” Most learners recognize this word as the antonym of “right.” For instance, you can choose to go left or right at an intersection. Drivers in the United Kingdom use the left side of the road. Some people are left-handed or left-brained.
“Left” has some other meanings, and here is where things begin to get interesting. “Left” is also the past tense form of the verb “leave.” You leave a house party, and you tell your friend about it. You say “I left the party.” When you graduated college, you left it. You and your colleagues left work on Friday afternoon.
Now, we can look at a more abstract meaning of “left.” Your friend brings over a plate of cookies to cheer you up one day. You eat three, and there are seven remaining on the plate. You may tell your friend, “I ate three cookies, but there are seven left.” So, something left is something remaining. If you eat dinner, but there is extra food from the meal, you say that there is some food left. If you eat all of the food, there is nothing left. No food remains.
Now that you know the difference between these meanings, look at a sentence where both are used at the same time. You went to dinner with three friends, but you had to leave early. You text your partner to tell them about your night. You say, “I left because I was tired, but there are three people left at the restaurant.”
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