What Are Antonyms?

Definition of Antonym

Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.

Easy Examples of Antonyms

  • Bad is an antonym of good.
  • Coward is an antonym of hero.
A word can have more than one antonym. The following are all antonyms of "good":
  • bad, corrupt, evil, evilness, malicious, sour, wicked
The first point is that "good," like many words, can be a noun or an adjective, so its antonyms are a mix of nouns and adjectives too. The second point is that antonyms do not have to be exact opposites.

Table of Contents

  • Types of Antonym
  • (1) Graded Antonyms
  • (2) Complementary Antonyms
  • Adding a Prefix to Form an Antonym
  • Why Antonyms Are Important
  • Test Time!
What are antonyms? (with examples)

Types of Antonym

There are two main types of antonyms: graded antonyms and complementary antonyms.

(1) Graded Antonyms

Graded antonyms do not have to be opposites of equal weighting. They allow for shades of oppositeness. For example, the following are all antonyms for "good":
  • unsatisfactory, poor, bad, terrible
Here are some graded antonyms for "thin":
  • obese, chubby, plump, fat, overweight, stout, burly, brawny, well-built, averagely built
  • (Notice the scale from "very not thin" to "a little bit not thin.")

(2) Complementary Antonyms

Complementary antonyms offer no middle ground. The antonyms are strongly paired, meaning there is only one antonym for each word. (Complementary antonyms are often called "relational antonyms" because a clear relationship exists between the words.) For example:
  • 1 / 0
  • before / after
  • buy / sell
  • dead / alive
  • doctor / patient
  • husband / wife
  • man / woman
  • off / on
  • predator / prey
  • yes / no

Adding a Prefix to Form an Antonym

Quite often, an antonym can be made by adding a prefix. For example:
  • likely / unlikely
  • able / unable
  • entity / nonentity
  • combatant / noncombatant
  • typical / atypical
  • symmetrical / asymmetrical
  • decent / indecent
  • discreet / indiscreet

Why Antonyms Are Important

There are three reasons to care about antonyms:

(Reason 1) To keep your writing interesting

To avoid using the same words or the same sentence structures, add some variety by expressing your idea from the other direction with an antonym. Compare these:
  • His strong bicep bulged in the sleeve.
  • His far-from-feeble bicep bulged in the sleeve.
  • (This is a little more interesting and a little more rhythmic too.)

(Reason 2) To sound more factual

You can use an antonym to form a deliberate double negative. A double negative (e.g., I ain't got no money) is not always a mistake. Quite often, using a double negative sounds more diplomatic or factual. Compare these:
  • She is beautiful.
  • She could not be described as unattractive.
  • (This sounds far more factual than complimentary.)
Read more about double negatives.

(Reason 3) To improve vocabulary

Learning antonyms is an effective way to expand your vocabulary because the original word provides a "mental hook" to hang the antonyms on. Looking at a difficult word's antonyms (as well as its synonyms, i.e., other meanings) is a good way to confirm its meaning.
  • axiomatic (synonym: obvious; antonym: questionable)
  • erudite (synonym: scholarly; antonym: uneducated)

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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