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What Are Antonyms?


Words that have the opposite meaning of another word are referred to as antonyms. For example, the antonym of hot is cold.

Some words can have more than one antonym, depending on the context in which the same word is used. For instance, the word short could have the antonyms, long and tall.  This means that for one to get the correct antonym, they have to consider the meaning and the usage of the word.

A list of the various antonyms can be found in a thesaurus. While using the antonyms, make sure that the words chosen are the correct opposites of that particular word.

Antonyms can be broadly categorized as graded antonyms, complementary antonyms and relational antonyms.

Graded antonyms: These pairs of antonyms can be explained with reference to a continuum or scale. For example, let us look at the word  – good. Now, the antonym for good would be bad but then, the word good could be placed on a scale and this could throw up several possible antonyms such as satisfactory, fair, incredible, appalling and so on. Other examples include:

miserable – happy

intelligent – stupid

Complimentary antonyms: These pairs of words represent the only two opposite possibilities and there is no middle ground or  scale that is involved between the two words. Such antonyms include:

true – false

dead – alive

day – night

male – female

Relational / converse antonyms: These words describe a relationship between two opposites. In simple words, it refers to two words that exist within the same situation. They are a sub-type of complementary antonyms.

Words in this category include:

husband – wife

buy – sell

prey – predator

customer – supplier

As mentioned earlier, while using antonyms, look at the connotation and context of the word, and then, choose the appropriate word that means the opposite of the given word. For example:

Rita’s fair beauty attracts many suitors, but her ________ sister hardly gets any attention.

Tom’s performance can be described as fair and it was by no means ________ .

If you had to choose between the antonyms, bad and ugly for these two sentences, what would be your answers?

Well, in the first sentence, the connotation of the word, ‘fair’ is with reference to beauty and so, the appropriate antonym would be ugly. While in the second sentence, the performance of Tom is said to be ‘fair’, far from it being ‘bad’.

You can learn to use the appropriate antonyms by constantly learning new ones and using them in their relevant contexts.

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