In lexical semantics
Lexical semantics
Lexical semantics is a subfield of linguistic semantics. It is the study of how and what the words of a language denote . Words may either be taken to denote things in the world, or concepts, depending on the particular approach to lexical semantics.The units of meaning in lexical semantics are...

, opposites are words that lie in an inherently incompatible binary relationship as in the opposite pairs male : female, long : short, up : down, and precede : follow. The notion of incompatibility here refers to the fact that one word in an opposite pair entails that it is not the other pair member. For example, something that is long entails that it is not short. It is referred to as a 'binary' relationship because there are two members in a set of opposites. The relationship between opposites is known as opposition. A member of a pair of opposites can generally be determined by the question What is the opposite of  X ?

The term antonym (and the related antonymy) has also been commonly used as a term that is synonymous with opposite; however, the term also has other more restricted meanings. One usage has antonym referring to both gradable opposites, such as long : short, and (non-gradable) complementary opposites, such as male : female, while opposites of the types up : down and precede : follow are excluded from the definition.

A third usage (particularly that of the influential Lyons 1968, 1977) defines the term antonym as referring to only gradable opposites (the long : short type) while the other types are referred to with different terms. Therefore, as Crystal (2003) warns, the terms antonymy and antonym should be regarded with care. In this article, the usage of Lyons (1963, 1977) and Cruse (1986, 2004) will be followed where antonym is restricted to gradable opposites and opposite is used as the general term referring to any of the subtypes discussed below.

While objectal opposites are difficult to define it is generally accepted that the disappearance of an object is the closet rather than the lack of physical presence.

General discussion

Opposites are, interestingly, simultaneously different and similar in meaning. Typically, they differ in only one dimension of meaning, but are similar in most other respects, including similarity in grammar and positions of semantic abnormality. Additionally, not all words have an opposite. Some words are non-opposable. For example, animal or plant species have no binary opposites (other than possible gender opposites such as lion/lioness, etc.); the word platypus
The platypus is a semi-aquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young...

 therefore has no word that stands in opposition to it (hence the unanswerability of What is the opposite of platypus?).

Other words are opposable but have an accidental gap
Accidental gap
In linguistics an accidental gap, also known as a gap or a hole in the pattern, is a word or other form that does not exist in some language but which would be expected to exist given the grammatical rules of the language. For example, in English a noun may be formed by adding the suffix -al to a...

 in a given language's lexicon
In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. A lexicon is also a synonym of the word thesaurus. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes. Coined in English 1603, the word "lexicon" derives from the Greek "λεξικόν" , neut...

. For example, the word devout lacks a lexical opposite, but it is fairly easy to conceptualize a parameter of devoutness where devout lies at the positive pole with a missing member at the negative pole. Opposites of such words can nevertheless sometimes be formed with the prefixes un- or non-, with varying degrees of naturalness. For example, the word undevout appears in Webster's dictionary of 1828, while the pattern of non-person could conceivably be extended to non-platypus. Conversely, some words appear to be a prefixed form of an opposite, but the opposite term does not exist, such as inept, which appears to be in- + *ept; such a word is known as an unpaired word
Unpaired word
An unpaired word is one that, according to the usual rules of the language, would appear to have a related word but does not. Such words usually have a prefix or suffix that would imply that there is an antonym, with the prefix or suffix being absent or opposite.Unpaired words can be the result of...


Opposites may be viewed as a special type of incompatibility. Words that are incompatible create the following type of entailment
In logic, entailment is a relation between a set of sentences and a sentence. Let Γ be a set of one or more sentences; let S1 be the conjunction of the elements of Γ, and let S2 be a sentence: then, Γ entails S2 if and only if S1 and not-S2 are logically inconsistent...

  (where X is a given word and Y is a different word incompatible with word X):
sentence A is  X   entails  sentence A is not  Y 

An example of an incompatible pair of words is cat : dog:
It's a cat  entails  It's not a dog

This incompatibility is also found in the opposite pairs fast : slow and stationary : moving, as can be seen below:
It's fast  entails  It's not slow
It's stationary  entails  It's not moving

Cruse (2004) identifies some basic characteristics of opposites:
  • binarity
  • inheritness
  • patency


Complementary opposites are pairs that express absolute opposites, like mortal and immortal.
  • interactives
  • satisfactives
  • counteractives

Antonyms (gradable opposites)

For the purposes of this article (see introduction), antonyms, from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 anti ("opposite") and onoma ("name") are gradable opposites. Gradable opposites lie at opposite ends of a continuous spectrum of meanings; examples are hot and cold, slow and fast, and fat and skinny. Words may have several different antonyms, depending on the meaning: both long and tall can be antonyms of short.

Though the word antonym was only coined by philologist
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

s in the 19th century, such relationships are a fundamental part of a language, in contrast to synonym
Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

s, which are a result of history and drawing of fine distinctions, or homonym
In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings...

s, which are mostly etymological
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 accidents or coincidences.

Languages often have ways of creating antonyms as an easy extension of lexicon. For example, English has the prefixes in- and un-, so unreal is the antonym of real and indocile is of docile.

Some planned languages abundantly use such devices to reduce vocabulary multiplication.
Esperanto has mal- (compare bona = "good" and malbona = "bad"), Damin
Damin was a ceremonial language register used by the advanced initiated men of the Lardil and the Yangkaal tribes in Aboriginal Australia. Both inhabit islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Lardil on Mornington Island, the largest island of the Wesley Group, and the Yangkaal and Forsyth Islands...

 has kuri- (tjitjuu "small", kuritjitjuu "large") and Newspeak
Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, it refers to the deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state. Orwell included an essay about it in the form of an appendix in which the basic principles of the language are explained...

 has un- (as in ungood, "bad").

Directional opposites

  • antipodals
  • reversives
  • converses (or relational opposites)
  • pseudo-opposites

  • Relational antonyms (Converses) are pairs in which one describes a relationship between two objects and the other describes the same relationship when the two objects are reversed, such as parent and child, teacher and student, or buy and sell.


An auto-antonym
An auto-antonym , or contranym , is a word with a homograph that is also an antonym...

is a word that can have opposite meanings in different contexts or under separate definitions:
  • enjoin (to prohibit, issue injunction
    An injunction is an equitable remedy in the form of a court order that requires a party to do or refrain from doing certain acts. A party that fails to comply with an injunction faces criminal or civil penalties and may have to pay damages or accept sanctions...

    ; to order
    General order
    In militaries, a general order is a published directive, originated by a commander, and binding upon all personnel under his command, the purpose of which is to enforce a policy or procedure unique to his unit's situation which is not otherwise addressed in applicable service regulations, military...

    , command)
  • fast (moving quickly; fixed firmly in place)
  • cleave (to split; to adhere)
  • sanction (punishment, prohibition
    Prohibition of alcohol, often referred to simply as prohibition, is the practice of prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. The term can also apply to the periods in the histories of the countries during which the...

     ; permission)
  • stay (remain in a specific place, postpone; guide direction, movement)

See also

  • -onym
    The suffix onym, in English and other languages, means "word, name," and words ending in onym refer to a specified kind of name or word, most of which are classical compounds. For example, an acronym is a word formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts...

  • Antithesis
    Antithesis is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition...

  • Litotes
    In rhetoric, litotes is a figure of speech in which understatement is employed for rhetorical effect when an idea is expressed by a denial of its opposite, principally via double negatives....

  • Relational oppositeness
    Relational oppositeness
    In linguistics the term relational oppositeness refers to the relationship between two words which seem to be opposites of each other but in fact actually imply each other. For example own and belong are relational opposites i.e. "A owns B" is the same as "B belongs to A" Other examples are above...

  • Semantic differential
    Semantic differential
    Semantic differential is a type of a rating scale designed to measure the connotative meaning of objects, events, and concepts. The connotations are used to derive the attitude towards the given object, event or concept.-Semantic differential:...

  • Synonym
    Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

  • Thesaurus
    A thesaurus is a reference work that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning , in contrast to a dictionary, which contains definitions and pronunciations...

External links

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