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Understanding antonyms

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Have you ever played that game where you say a word, and your partner has to say a related word as quickly as possible - you say ‘hot’, they say ‘cold’; you say ‘big’, they say ‘small’!

If you have, the chances are that you’ve used antonyms.

An antonym is a word that means the exact opposite of another word. The opposite of an antonym is a synonym.

Building up your English vocabulary so that you have a bank of antonyms to draw on is one of the best ways you can become proficient at speaking and writing in English.

Relational antonyms

The examples given above are called relational antonyms and can be used when two things have an established relationship to each other, for example:

Boy - girl

Over - under

Brother - sister

Mother - father

High - low

Complementary antonyms

Complementary antonyms are similar to relational antonyms but are exact opposites:

On - off

Home - away

Lost - found

Inside - outside

Dead - alive

Adding the prefix ‘un’

One of the simplest ways you can create an antonym is to add the prefix ‘un’ to a word, to make it mean its opposite.

Happy becomes unhappy

Likely becomes unlikely

Supportive becomes unsupportive

Antonyms help to to imply meaning

Instead of saying “I don’t feel happy” you could use an antonym to say:

“I feel sad”

“I feel unhappy”

“I feel distressed”

The words ‘unhappy’ and ‘distressed’, are antonyms for the word ‘sad’, but they convey slightly different degrees of sadness.

You might say you are sad because you don’t have any friends, but if you described yourself as ‘distressed’ because you don’t have any friends, this implies a greater degree of severity.

Once you expand your vocabulary by exploring antonyms, you’ll have a much better understanding of what other people are trying to express to you too through their use of specific words and phrases.

Learn antonyms through these fun videos

I’ve put together a series of short, fun, videos to help you build up your antonym vocabulary. By practising for just a few minutes a day you will quickly expand your knowledge and understanding of English.

Each video provides you with examples of antonyms, as well as how they are used in the context of a sentence.

If you have any questions about the videos, please leave a comments.

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