An antonym is a word that is the opposite meaning of another. It comes from the Greek words “anti” for opposite and “onym” for name. Since language is complex, people may at times, disagree on what words are truly opposite in meaning to other words.
Synonyms and Antonyms
Working with Antonyms
Sometimes you need to take two steps to enlarge your findings when doing antonym research:
Step 1: Search for the antonyms for a word.
Here is an example of antonyms for the word “good” from Rhyme Zone.com:
- bad, badly, badness, evil, evilness, ill, malevolent, malicious, poorly, wicked
Step 2: Search for synonyms of the antonyms identifed in step one.
If you take the first antonym listed, “bad,” and search for synonyms, you would be shown 73 synonyms for “bad.” That would give you a lot of antonyms to choose from when looking for that perfect antonym for good, including words such as: awful, dreadful, hard, hopeless, inferior, lousy, painful, rotten, severe, stale, terrible, and tough.
Categories of Antonyms
There are three categories of antonyms:
- Graded antonyms – deal with levels of the meaning of the words, like if something is not “good”, is may still not be “bad.” There is a scale involved with some words, and besides good and bad there can be average, fair, excellent, terrible, poor, or satisfactory.
- Complementary antonyms – have a relationship where there is no middle ground. There are only two possibilities, either one or the other.
- Relational antonyms – are sometimes considered a subcategory of complementary antonyms. With these pairs, for there to be a relationship, both must exist.
The chart below shows examples of all three categories of antonyms.
Adding a Prefix
Sometimes, an antonym can be easily made by adding a prefix.
Examples of antonyms that were made by adding the prefix “un” are:
- Likely and unlikely
- Able and unable
- Fortunate and unfortunate
- Forgiving and unforgiving
By adding the prefix “non” you can make these pairs:
- Entity and nonentity
- Conformist and nonconformist
- Payment and nonpayment
- Combatant and noncombatant
Lastly, adding the prefix “in” can make the following pairs:
- Tolerant and intolerant
- Decent and indecent
- Discreet and indiscreet
- Excusable and inexcusable
If you want to find the perfect antonym, a thesaurus or antonym dictionary can be very helpful. These reference sources will give definitions and parts of speech, has lists of anonyms, synonyms, and sometimes will even show similar sounding words, homophones, rhymes, and will show examples from literature.