Usage example with a context:

“Every one of these sentences is, to put it mildly, a stretch,” explained one seasoned Kremlin-watcher, and the news this week from Ukraine has been grim, contra Obama’s hopeful pose. While Russia’s economy remains seriously hurt from sanctions and, even more, the sharp drop in oil prices, the notion that this is taming Putin’s baser urges is not only untrue, it’s more likely the opposite of the truth, as I cautioned a month ago.

Is that a preposition? Something similar to the preposition contrary to? I've never seen this one before plus many English dictionaries out there don't even have it listed as a preposition.

  • I've never seen it before either, but based on the context, I would read it as contrary to, just as you suggested. – pyobum Jan 28 '15 at 3:03
  • thefreedictionary.com/contra – user6951 Jan 28 '15 at 3:04
  • It's best to allow at least 24 hours for responses before accepting an answer, even if you get a good one right away. More info is here. – Ben Kovitz Jan 28 '15 at 5:33

According to The free dictionary, contra can be used as a prefix, noun, preposition, or adverb.

I think the contra used in the sentence is a preposition to mean in contrast to, against, or contrary to, as you understand. However, if used as a preposition, I don't think it's appropriate to put a comma before "contra". An example of its use as a preposition is mentioned in a dictionary as follows:


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You are correct, it is short form for contrary to. In this instance it is being used as a preposition.

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  • No, it's not slang. It's actually a preposition thefreedictionary.com/contra also collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/american/contra – ColleenV Jan 28 '15 at 4:34
  • @colleeen in fact it is short form, it says so on the link you posted. – Trevor Clarke Jan 28 '15 at 4:59
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    @TrevorClarke It says that the word "contra", in the sense of a revolutionary who attempted to overthrow the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, originated as a short form of contrarrevolucionario. The word contra in the sense that the OP asked about is not a short form. It's the Latin word contra, imported directly into English. – Ben Kovitz Jan 28 '15 at 5:05
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    It's definitely not a short form of "contrary to". The OED quotes English usage at least as far back as 1480, usually paired in a phrase with the Latin word pro ("pro and contra"). The word has moved into general usage from specialized usage in philosophy and law. – Ben Kovitz Jan 28 '15 at 5:15
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    Trevor - I took a look, as you suggested, and I think @Ben is right. The link reads "contra (1) preposition against". That's it. There's nothing about a shortened form until you scroll further down the page to contra (2). But those numbers show that we are talking about two different words that happen to have the same spelling, much like wind (as in, the wind blows from the north) and wind (as in, remember to wind the clock tonight before bed). – J.R. Jan 28 '15 at 10:17

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