Please bear with me, I'm not a native speaker and I'm struggling with English. I wanted to ask about the bolded parts in the paragraph below. First, what's the grammatical explanation behind the phrase "intrinsically contrary"?. Second, in the other bolded part, shouldn't they say "his verbal skills were inferior"?, I know it's not a mistake, but it got me confused.

"Madison, Jefferson's lifelong friend, collaborator, and political ally was quizzical and skeptical. His mind was less capacious and less elevated than Jefferson's, but more … original, and instinctively contrary. Less learned than Jefferson, his verbal skills inferior, he was almost pedantically alert to inner complications, and so, Though less adept a politician, he was more consistent."


  • Are you asking about grammar or semantics (meaning).
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 17:36
  • I'm asking about both. Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


The meaning of contrary here is a rare sense. Usually "contrary" means "opposed" but when applied to a person it means "usually takes a opposing position". This use is old fashioned. In old fashioned English we might say "She is a very contrary child." to mean "she always argues with me." (there may be a stress difference too, the usual stress is cóntrary, but when applied to a person it becomes contráry)

Madison was "instinctively contrary" His nature was always to oppose other people and argue against them.

The second part is a modifier phrase, it could have a non-finite verb such as "his verbal skills being inferior". However the verb "being" is not needed here. Compare this with a particple phrase "his sword drawn, he entered the room". We would not normally say "His sword being drawn, ..."

  • 1
    a good answer, as always, but I take issue with old-fashioned when I think you mean that you have not seen the usage recently. I have certainly been described as contrary, and I am not that old.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 21:38
  • so is "instinctively contrary" considered like a good or a bad merit? Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 9:04

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