Term of Art: Antonym

“Antonym: One of two words or other expressions that have opposite meanings: fast and slow, hot and cold. Some words are antonymous in some contexts but not others: straight is the opposite of bent/curved, but is the antonym of gay in the context of homosexuality. Linguists identify three different types of antonymy: (1) Gradable antonyms, which operate on a continuum: (very) big, (very) small. Such pairs often occur in binomial phrases with and: (blow) hot and cold, (search) high and low. (2) Complementary antonyms, which express an either/or relationship: dead or alive, male or female. (3) Converse or relational antonyms, expressing reciprocity: borrow or lend, buy or sell, wife or husband.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

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