Antonyms are pairs or groups of words that are notionally opposite in meaning, such as night/day, boy/girl, long/short, hot/cold, etc. This post describes the four categories of antonyms that feature in the use of English, explains the characteristics of each and offers a number of examples of each type.

Antonyms can be defined as follows:

1. Gradable (large/small, hot/cold, delicious/disgusting)


Gradable antonyms are typically pairs of adjectives that can be qualified by adverbs such as very, quite, extremely, etc. So for example, we can say the tickets were expensive or the tickets were cheap. However, as expensive and cheap are gradable antonyms, we can also qualify how expensive or cheap they were:

The tickets were surprisingly expensive. The tickets were very expensive. The tickets were quite expensive.

The tickets were incredibly cheap. The tickets were rather cheap. The tickets were undeniably cheap.

Further examples of gradable antonyms include:

  • friendly/unfriendly
  • hot/cold
  • wet/dry
  • interesting/boring
  • bright/dull
  • modern/old-fashioned
  • bland/delicious

2. Complementary (black/white, boy/girl, alive/dead)

Complementary antonyms are pairs of words that are opposite in meaning, cannot be graded and are mutually exclusive. That is, they can exist independently of each other. For example, there might be a daughter in a family but not the complementary opposite of a son, as girls can exist without their complementary opposite of boys.

Further examples of complementary antonyms include:

  • push/pull
  • right/wrong
  • yes/no
  • exit/entrance
  • treat/punishment
  • silence/noise
  • lift/drop

3. Converse (teacher/student, doctor/patient, defence/prosecution)

Converse antonyms are pairs of opposites where one cannot exist without the other. For example to have a husband, you must have a wife. Therefore, husband and wife are complementary antonyms.

Further examples of converse antonyms include:

  • borrow/lend
  • parent/child
  • above/below
  • night/day
  • policeman/criminal
  • husband/wife
  • plug/socket

4.Multiple Taxonomies (Mon-Tue-Wed-Thu-Fri-Sat-Sun)

Multiple taxonomies are groups or fields of words such as days of the week, months of the year, etc., that comprise a fixed system. As such, they are distinct from the pairs of opposites described above as they feature three of more items in the system.

Further examples of multiple taxonomies include:

  • fail/pass/merit/distinction
  • spring/summer/autumn/winter
  • spades/hearts/diamonds/clubs
  • north/south/east/west
  • solid/liquid/gas