Antonyms: What Are Antonyms? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on June 7, 2023

If you'd like to know more about antonyms, the different types, and how to use them, you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know.

In short:

  • Antonyms are words that are opposite in meaning. There are four different types.

What Are Antonyms?

The word 'antonym' comes from the Greek words anti, meaning 'opposite,' and onym meaning 'name.' Indeed, two words that are antonyms are said to be opposite in meaning. The opposite word is 'synonym,' which refers to two words with the same meaning.

  • The word 'antonym' is a noun, and its adjective is 'antonymous.'

They can be any part of speech, whether that be a noun, adjective, verb, and so on.

Here are some examples:

Antonyms are helpful for so many reasons, not least because they give your writing more depth and quality. They also allow you to display a rich vocabulary by avoiding repetition and are very handy for describing and making comparisons.

They are also great for antithesis, a literary device where you lay out opposing ideas next to each other to create a startling contrast.

A famous antithesis example:

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

Types of Antonyms

There are four major types of antonyms, each with a specific degree of 'opposite.' Let's learn about these four types.


Auto-antonyms are words that have two meanings that oppose each other. Basically, they're their own opposites. Sound confusing? Yeah, it is a little. So how are you supposed to know the difference? You'll have to deduct the meaning based on the context.

Look at the two following sentences for example:

The train has already left.

We only have small sizes left.

In the first sentence, the word 'left' means 'departed'; in the second, it means 'remaining.' So 'left' is an example of an auto-antonym.

Here are some others:

  • 'screen': the verb 'to screen' can mean 'show' or 'hide.'
    The movie was screened five times last week.
    We installed hedges to screen our garden.
  • 'reservation': having a reservation can mean a commitment to something or a hesitation toward something
    I have reservations at the new restaurant.
    I have reservations about the new restaurant.
  • 'off': can mean both 'activated' and 'deactivated.'
    I turned the alarm off.
    The alarm went off.


Complementary antonyms (also known as binary or contradictory) are direct opposites of each other in the sense that you can be one or the other, but you can never be both.

  • inhale/exhale
  • vacant/occupied
  • alive/dead


Relational antonyms (also known as converse) are also related words but, contrary to complementary words, have a symbiotic relationship. One can't exist without the other. Here are some examples of this type:

  • doctor/patient
  • parent/child
  • predator/prey


Graded antonyms show words on opposite ends of the spectrum

  • happy/sad
  • big/small
  • hot/cold

Prefixes to Create Antonyms

Prefixes are commonly found in antonyms because many antonyms are created by adding a prefix to the word it opposes. These are known as negative prefixes.

Here are some common ones:

  • dis-
    agree → disagree
    comfort → discomfort
    appear → disappear
  • non-
    compliant non-compliant
    verbal nonverbal
    binary nonbinary
  • a-
    typical atypical
    symmetrical asymmetrical
    political apolitical
  • de-
    activate → deactivate
    frost → defrost
    toxify → detoxify
  • i
    legal illegal
    perfect imperfect
    regular irregular

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on antonyms. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Words that are antonyms are opposite in meaning.
  • Use antonyms to enrich your writing, contrast and compare, and in antithesis.
  • There are four different types.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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