Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.

Easy Examples of Antonyms

  • Bad is an antonym ofgood.
  • Coward is an antonym of hero.

More Examples of Antonyms

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.

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

Graded antonyms are not necessarily opposites of equal weighting. Look at 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".)
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.)
  • 1 / 0
  • before / after
  • buy / sell
  • dead / alive
  • doctor / patient
  • husband / wife
  • man / woman
  • off / on
  • predator / prey
  • yes / no
Quite often, an antonym can be formed by adding a prefix.
  • likely / unlikely
  • entity / nonentity
  • symmetrical / asymmetrical
  • decent / indecent
  • flammable / inflammable [wrong]
  • (Obviously, inflammable isn't an antonym of flammable. They both mean flammable! I think semantic change (the evolution of word usage) has let us down a bit there.)

Why Should I Care about Antonyms?

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. There is more on this in the section on 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

  • Use antonyms to spice up your choice of words and to vary sentence structures.
  • Use antonyms to form deliberate double negatives to finetune your message.
  • Use antonyms to improve your vocabulary.
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