Learn English – What are the differences between “inverse”, “reverse”, and “converse”


What distinctions can be made among the meanings of the words "inverse", "reverse", "converse", and, for good measure, "transverse" and "obverse"? Is it ever possible to use some of them interchangeably?

Are they the same for purposes of casual discourse? Do the differences become more salient in a particular technical context, such as engineering, math, or linguistics?

Best Answer

inverse: opposite or contrary in position, direction, order, or effect
in mathematics - something obtained by inversion or something that can be applied to an element to produce its identity element
reverse: opposite primarily in direction
in law - reverse or annul
in printing - make print white in a block of solid color or half tone
in electronics - in the direction that does not allow significant current
in geology - denoting a fault or faulting in which a relative downward movement occurred in the strata situated on the underside of the fault plane
converse: corresponding yet opposing
in mathematics - a theorem whose hypothesis and conclusion are the conclusion and hypothesis of another
also a brand of shoe
transverse: situated across from something
obverse: the opposite or counterpart of something (particularly a truth)
in biology - narrower at the base or point of attachment than at the apex or top

from NOAD

Reverse is the only one I've commonly heard in casual speech and only referring to the direction of a car (in US... don't know about UK et al). Some could be used interchangeably, but it would be best to avoid it considering that each generally has a specific meaning in its context.