What Is an Antonym? | Definition & Examples

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Introduction to Antonyms

We are not always excited, are we? We are sometimes bored too. When we are no longer hungry, we feel full. Antonyms, or words with nearly or completely the opposite meanings, have their own unique place in any language. If we have a great stock of antonyms, we can communicate with far more elan and aplomb.

What Are Antonyms?

"You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget."

- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Antonyms are words that have the opposite meanings. The term "antonym" has its origin in an Ancient Greek word "antonumia", which means "counter name".

Examples of Antonyms

good – bad

before – after

early – late

exterior – interior

doctor – patient

bitter – sweet

triumph – defeat

Antonyms and Synonyms

Antonyms are opposite words. Synonyms, on the other hand, are words that have the same or different meanings.

Examples:

beautiful – pretty (synonyms)
beautiful – ugly (antonyms)

complex – intricate (synonyms)
complex – simple (antonyms)

praise – applaud (synonyms)
praise – criticize (antonyms)

A useful tip: In the above examples, you are likely to have observed an important thing: each word in an antonyms/synonyms pair is from the same part of speech. For instance, "praise" is a verb, and so is "applaud". "Complex" is an adjective, and so is "simple".

Types of Antonyms

There are three types of antonyms: complementary antonyms, relational antonyms, and graded antonyms.

Complementary Antonyms

Complementary antonyms are absolute opposites. In other words, each antonym in a complementary pair is independent and can exist without the other.

Examples:

boy – girl (A boy can exist without a girl and vice versa.)

day – night

male – female

Relational Antonyms

Relational antonyms are closely related antonym pairs. Each of the two words must exist; or else, they won't be antonyms of each other.

Examples:

above – below ("Above" doesn't exist without "below".)

front- back

doctor – patient

Graded Antonyms

Graded antonyms are two words indicating a specific level in a large scale of comparison. Each word from the scale varies from the other in terms of the degree or intensity of meaning.

Examples:

Happy, pleased, exhilarated, content – sad, gloomy, sorrowful, melancholy

fat, heavy, bulky, obese - slim, thin, lean, slender, feeble

The words denoting joy from the list: happy, pleased, exhilarated, and content are all different from each other in what degree of joy each word conveys. Similarly, each word indicating sadness: sad, gloomy, sorrowful, and melancholy belongs to a particular intensity in the scale of sadness.

Antonyms Are Easy

The best aspect of antonyms is that you don't always need to refer to a dictionary or thesaurus to find them. Often, simply adding a prefix such as dis-, mis-, un-, or -in will do the trick. Here are a few examples.

Forming Antonyms with the Prefix Un-

able – unable

available – unavailable

foreseen – unforeseen

Forming Antonyms with the Prefix Dis-

like – dislike

please – displease

honest – dishonest

Forming Antonyms with the Prefix In-

formal – informal

justice – injustice

active – inactive

A Handy List of Antonyms

Words
Antonyms
Words
Antonyms
truth
lie
beneficial
harmful
love
hate
combine
separate
hero
villain
barren
fertile
arrive
leave
charming
obnoxious
rich
poor
marvelous
terrible
cruel
kind
professional
amateur
merry
sad
temporary
permanent
near
far
advantageous
disadvantageous
open
close
intentional
accidental
alive
dead
knowledge
ignorance

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