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What Is a Paradox? (Meaning and Examples)

A paradox is a statement or a concept that is, or seems to be, self-contradictory.

paradox examples

Easy Examples of Paradox

  • I always lie.
  • (This statement is absolutely self-contradictory. If it's true, then it's not true. This would be accepted as a paradox in the field of Logic.)
  • You can save money by spending it.
  • (The idea seems self-contradictory, but it's possibly true. For example, spending money insulating your roof would reduce heating bills.)

Real-Life Examples of "Everyday" Paradox

These next examples seem self-contradictory, but they're not. (Paradoxical expressions that seem self-contradictory but aren't are often described as "everyday paradox" as opposed to "logical paradox.") These are examples of "everyday paradox":
  • To shut down your computer, first click Start.
  • You have to be cruel to be kind.
  • Less is more.
  • When you increase your knowledge, you understand how little you know.
  • (In essence, your unknown unknowns become known unknowns.)

Real-Life Examples of "Logical" Paradox

The following examples are absolutely self-contradictory. They are examples of "logical paradox."
  • My nose will grow. (Pinocchio)
  • If you didn't get this message, call me.
  • Your mission is to not accept this mission? Do you accept?
  • No keyboard detected. Press F1 to continue.
  • Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life. (Prime Minister Herbert Asquith)

An Oxymoron Is a Paradox

An oxymoron (a seemingly self-contradicting term) is a paradox (usually "everyday" paradox).
  • female gunman
  • fresh raisins
  • bittersweet
  • escaped prisoner
Read more about oxymorons.

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the what we mean by "paradox":

Why Should I Care about Paradoxes?

A paradoxical expression that seems self-contradictory but isn't can be impactful and memorable as it compels your readers to work out for themselves why your seemingly self-contradictory idea is true.
  • We must go backwards to go forwards.
  • (This is a memorable way of delivering a message like "we must align our old processes to the new methodology" or "we must rethink our strategy".)
Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

See Also

What is figurative language? What is an oxymoron> What is a euphemism? Glossary of grammatical terms