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Sense Relations (II): Synonymy and Antonymy
5.1. From concept to word: synonymy and antonymy
As stated earlier, onomasiology deals with cases in which the same concept or
similar concepts are expressed by dierent words or expressions. According to one
deinition (!s!ally attrib!ted to "eibni#), two expressions are synonymo!s i the
s!bstit!tion o one or the other ne$er changes the tr!th $al!e o a sentence in which the
s!bstit!tion is made. %y that deinition, tr!e or absol!te synonyms are rare, i they exist
at all.
Absol!te synonyms are deined ("yons, 1&'(: 51) as )expressions that are !lly,
totally and completely synonyms) in the sense that
(a) all their meanings are identical (!ll synonymy)
(b) they are interchangeable in all contexts (total synonymy)
(c) they are identical in all rele$ant dimensions o meaning (complete synonymy)
Act!ally the $ery terms *absol!te synonymy*, **!ll synonymy), +total synonymy)
and )complete synonymy) (not to mention exact synonymy) are themsel$es !sed as
synonyms whether absol!te or partial in standard wor,s in semantics or lexicology,
!s!ally witho!t deinition.
-itho!t a$oring the hair.splitting terminological distinctions, "yons (1&'(: 51)
insists !pon the importance o (a) not con!sing near synonymy with partial synonymy
and (b) not ma,ing the ass!mptions that ail!re to satisy one o the conditions o
absol!te synonymy necessarily in$ol$es the ail!re to satisy either or both o the other
/o exempliy the irst condition re0!ired by absol!te synonymy or !ll synonymy
(i.e. same range o meanings) we will consider the pair big-large, where the ormer term
has at least one meaning that it does not share with the latter one. I we compare the
sentence )I will tell my big sister) with )I will tell my large sister )we notice that the
polysemy o big does not perectly o$erlap with the meaning o large.
/he second condition or absol!te synonymy, i.e. interchangeability o terms in
all contexts (total synonymy) reers to the collocational range o an expression (the set o
contexts in which it can occ!r). 1or example, the members in the pairs busy.occupied,
decoration.ornamentation, liberty .freedom do not always ha$e the same collocational
range. /here are many contexts in which they are not interchangeable witho!t $iolating
the collocational restrictions o the one or o the other. 1or instance, freedom cannot be
s!bstit!ted or liberty in *You are at liberty to say what you want*.
2oncerning the third condition or absol!te synonymy, i.e. identity3similarity o
all dimensions o meaning (complete synonymy), "yons (1&'(: 55) disting!ishes
descripti$e synonymy and expressi$e synonymy. /wo expressions are descripti$ely
synonymo!s, i.e. they ha$e the same descripti$e propositional3cogniti$e3reerential
meaning in and only i statements containing the other and $ice $ersa. 1or example, big
can be s!bstit!ted or large in *I live in a big house*.
4owe$er, in partic!lar instances, synonymo!s expressions may dier in terms o
the degree or nat!re o their expressi$e meaning. 5xpressi$e
(aecti$e3attit!dinal3emoti$e) meaning is the ,ind o meaning by $irt!e o which a
spea,er expresses, rather than describes his belies, attit!des and eelings
1or example, words li,e huge, enormous, gigantic, colossal are more expressi$e
o their !sers* eelings towards what they are describing than $ery big or $ery large with
which they are perhaps descripti$ely synonymo!s ("yons, 1&'(: 56).
As lang!ages seem to $ary considerably in the degree to which they grammaticali#e
expressi$e meaning to choose the right word 3expression o!t o a wide range o
synonymic terms diering in their degree o expressi$ity is a $ery demanding tas, or
translators. It is the expressi$e rather than the descripti$e component o meaning that
dominant when we decide to !se terms that imply appro$al or disappro$al: statesman $s.
politician, thrifty $s. mean/stingy $s. economical, stink/stench $s. fragrance $s. smell,
crafty/cunning $s. skillful $s. clever. In order to attract the reader and listener*s attention
headline and ad$ertisement writers ha$e to be $ery s,ill!l at !sing expressi$e synonymy.
7nowing the expressi$e meaning o a lexeme is 8!st as m!ch a part o one*s competence
in a lang!age as ,nowing its descripti$e meaning.
Altho!gh synonymy is airly irrele$ant or the str!ct!re o the lexicon o a
lang!age, i.e. a lang!age can !nction witho!t synonymy, lang!age learners cannot !se
the lang!age properly. -itho!t synonymy, lang!age learners cannot !se the lang!age
properly witho!t ,nowledge o all its synonymic reso!rces.
Altho!gh there is no logical necessity or lang!ages to ha$e lexical opposites at
all (5nglish wo!ld be 8!st as eicient as semiotic system i ther were s!ch pairs as
good :!ngood, wide : !nwide, ar: !nar) antonymy relects the h!man tendency to thin,
in opposites, to categories experience in terms o binary contrast( "yons, 1&99 : :9().
Antonyms ha$e recei$ed a good deal o attention rom ling!ists s!ch as Sapir
(1&66), ;!chace, (1&(5), %ierwisch (1&(9), "yons (1&(9, 1&99), 2r!se (1&9(, 1&'(),
%olinger (1&99), "ehrer (1&':).
"yons (1&99) replaces the term antonymy in the wider sense by )oppositeness)
(o meaning) and disting!ishes three dierent types o oppositeness: a) complementarity
b) anotnymy (in the narrower, restricted sense) c) con$erseness.
2omplementarity can be exempliied by pairs o words li,e male and female,
single.married. It is characteristic o complementaries that the denial o the one term
implies the assertion o the other and $ice $ersa. 1or instance, ohn is not married
implies that ohn is single and also ohn is married implies that ohn is not single.
Altho!gh complementaries are not gradable opposites< there are instances that
do not co$er all possible cases in real lie. /h!s there may be other possibilities besides
complementaries, e.g. male and female namely hermaphrodite.
4ence, expressi$e meaning alls within the scope o semantics, stylistics and pragmatics
2r!se (1&'(::=:) claims that complementaries are not normally gradable, that is,
they are odd in the comparati$e or s!perlati$e degree or when modiied by intensiiers
s!ch as e!tremely, moderately or slightly.(e.g. extremely tr!e, moderately emale, etc).
>e$ertheless, he states, there are instances where one member o the pair lends itsel
more readily to grading than the other. /h!s, alive is more gradable than dead ($ery dead,
moderately dead, deader than beore $s. $ery ali$e, moderately ali$e, more ali$e than
beore). 1or example, i someone says to !s ?Is @ still ali$e thenAB. And we reply ?Cery
m!ch so.B or ?And howDB we are not thereby challenging the !ngradability o dead: ali$e
in the lang!age system. -hat we are grading, "yons(1&99: :9') ass!mes are $ario!s
secondary implications or connotations o alive.
/he same holds tr!e o the pair open-shut where shut is less gradable than open
(slightly sh!t, moderately sh!t, more sh!t than beore $s. wide open, slightly open,
moderately open, more open than beore).
%esides 2r!se (1&'(: &&) maintains that ?the relations between dead and alive is
not at all aected by medico. legal !ncertainty as what constit!tes the point o death.
S!ch reerential indeterminacy alicts all words, witho!t exceptions. /he point abo!t
complementaries is that once a decision has been reached regarding one term, in all
rele$ant circ!mstances a decision has eecti$ely been made regarding the other term,
2r!se (1&'(: :==) belie$es that complementarity is to some extent a matter o
degree and s!pports his statement by examples s!ch as ghosts and vampires that existed
in a state, which was neither death nor lie. Similarly he says, the existence o
hermaphrodites and totally indeterminate sex wea,ens the relationships between male
and emale. An e$en wea,er relationship wo!ld hold between terms s!ch left- handed
and right- handed.
2omplementaries are, generally spea,ing, either $erbs or ad8ecti$es. According
to 2r!se (1&'( ::==) an interesting eat!re o $erbal complementaries which
disting!ishes them rom ad8ecti$al complementaries is that the domain within which the
complementarity operates is oten expressible by a single lexical item e.g. the $erb
command sets the scene or the complementarity o obey and disobey.
1!rther examples are born- live- die, start- keep on- stop, learn- remember-
forget, arrive- stay- leave, earn- save- suspend, re"uest- grant- refuse, invite- accept-
turn down, greet- acknowledge- snub, tempt- yield- resist, try- succeed- fail, compete-
win- loose, aim- hit- miss.
A inal example o lexical triplets in$ol$ing $erbal complementaries are attack-
defend- submit, change- refute- admit, shoot#in football$- save- let in, punch- parry- take.
As can be noticed, the members o the complementary pair represent an acti$e
and a passi$e response to the original action or perhaps more re$ealing co!nteraction or
lac, o co!nteraction.
/he same holds tr!e o the pair open- shut where shut is less gradable than open
(slightly shut, moderately shut, more shut than before vs. wide open, slightly open,
moderately open, more open than before).
E$er examples o more or less !lly gradable complementary ad8ecti$es are the
pairs true- false, pure- impure, clear- dirty, safe- dangerous : moderately clean, very
clean, fairly clean, cleaner, slightly dirty, "uite dirty, fairly dirty, dirtier, moderately
safe, very safe, fairly safe, safer, slightly dangerous, "uite dangerous, fairly dangerous,
more dangerous.
Antonymy proper
Antonymy in the narrow, restricted sense o "yons ( ) is the second s!bclass o
oppositeness o meaning. /he logical relationship is based on the act that the assertion o
one member does imply the negation other, b!t not $ice $ersa. In other words, or pairs o
antonyms li,e good- bad, big- small, high- low, only one o the relations o implication
(entailment) stated or complementarity holds.
/h!s, ohn is good, implies ohn is not bad. %!t ohn is not good does not
necessarily imply ohn is bad. /hereore, the negation3 denial o one term does not
necessarily imply the assertion o the other.
In the case o antonymy proper, a third possibility exists. Antonymo!s ad8ecti$es
(in the narrow sense) beha$e li,e comparati$es, i.e. they are !lly gradable !nli,e
complementaries that are not.
2on$erseness is the third s!bclass o oppositeness o meaning disting!ished by
"yons. /he logical criterion !sed or the sense relation o con$erseness is the possibility
o perm!ting no!n phrases !nctioning as arg!ments (semantic roles) in sentences which
remain otherwise e0!i$alent< the sentences imply each other and th!s ha$e the same
meaning. /h!s, Gohn bo!ght the car rom %ill implies %ill sold the car to Gohn and $ice
$ersa. Schematically, the sentences may be represented in the ollowing way :
>H1 bo!ght >HF rom >H:.
>H: sold >HF rom >H1.
As can be noticed, the s!bstit!tion o lexical con$erses ca!ses a perm!tation o
>Hs !nctioning as arg!ments. /he three types o oppositeness o meaning proposed by
"yons (1&(') are based on the relation o lexical implication or entailment. In more
recent wor,s ("yons, 1&99< 2r!se, 1&'() semanticists reined the classical treatment o
oppositeness o meaning by introd!cing a o!rth type, called directional opposition.
/his o!rth s!bclass is based on the notion o contrary motion (i.e. in opposite
direction ) : up- down, come- go, arrive- depart.
5.: %tudy "uestions and e!ercises
1. Are the ollowing pairs o items exact synonyms which can be interchanged in all
contextsA I possible, create examples sentences where the words cannot be interchanged:
a) h!rry 3 hasten b) exit 3 way o!t c) coness 3 admit
d) consider 3 regard e) in8!re 3 damage ) c!stomer3client
g) pa$ement 3 sidewal, h) speed 3 potato i) little3small 8) pea,3s!mmit

2. "oo, !p the ollowing pairs o synonyms in yo!r dictionary and ma,e a note o the
origin o each lexeme:
help . aid hea$en . s,y ,ingdom . realm
teach . instr!ct irst . initial annoy . irritate
3. 2onsider the ollowing pairs o synonyms. 2an yo! thin, o any sentence context in
which one member o a pair may be !sed and the other member notA Ia,e sentence
rames to ill!strate this point.
e.g. I am not at .... to tell yo! (the word liberty may be inserted b!t not its synonym
disco$er . ind
b!sy . occ!pied
decoration . ornamentation
,eep . retain
re0!ently . oten
6. "oo, !p the ollowing regional dialect words in yo!r dictionary to disco$er the
standard dialect synonyms (see 2ollins 5nglish ;ictionary):
b!tty, c!lch, diddle, heartsome, lease, m!lloc,, paw,y, snap, stob, t!m

5. 2onsider the ollowing gro!ps o synonyms and say how the members o each gro!p
dier in their connotation:
crowd . mob
pleased J delighted . glad
loo, at . stare at . ga#e at
modern . !p to date
boring . monotono!s J tedio!s . d!ll
(. Gi$e the collo0!ial or slang e0!i$alent or these e!phemistic synonyms: a. pass away<
b. li0!idate< c. intoxicated (inebriated)
7. Kro!p these words into triplets o lexemes with o$erlapping meanings, i.e. sets o
partial synonyms: brim, cr!sh, decorate, edge, enlist, gen!ine, ire, income, ma,e !p
($b), mash, paint, po!nd ($b), real recr!it ($b), rim, salary, sincere, wages.
8. 2omment on the collocational range o these synonyms:
edge Jborder Jrim Jbrim Jbrin, Jmargin J$erge.
-hich o these words can be !sed metaphoricallyA
9. 2omment on and exempliy these ideographic synonyms:
a. ga#e J gape J glare J stare J glimpse J glance . peep J peer J eye.
b. ch!c,le Jgiggle Jsmile Jsimper Jsmir, Jgrin Jchortle Jtitter Jsnic,er.
c. s!rprise J astonish J asto!nd J ama#e . bewilder
d. warm J l!,ewarm J hot . boiling

10. 2omment on and exempliy in sentences o yo!r own these ideographic synonyms:
a. ear J scare J right J horror J terror
b. con$ention J agreement J contract J treaty . pact
c. irritation J anger J !ry . rage
11. -hat ,ind o antonymy is represented by each o the ollowing pairs o antonymsA
a) behind . in ront< b) capti$e . ree< c) ast . slow< d) ixed . loose< e) high . low< ) in .
o!t< g) lea$e . stay< h) north o . so!th o< i) parent . child< 8) rich . poor< ,) teacher .
p!pil< l) thin . at<
12. "ist the antonyms o the ollowing lexemes. Iention the class o antonyms they
belong to: ali$e, male, narrow, open, o$er, recei$e, relin0!ish, sell, small, tall, wea,,
13. -hat are the possible opposites o the words hard and high in these phrasesA -hich
has the most context!al $aration:
high mar,s hard exam
high opinion hard chair
high b!ilding hard 8o!rney
high price hard wor,
high temperat!re hard person
high winds hard dr!gs
1. A word may ha$e dierent opposites in dierent contexts. -hat are the opposites o
Llight+ and Lro!gh+ in these phrases:
a. light bag
b. light wind
c. light colo!rs
d. ro!gh sea
e. ro!gh calc!lation
. ro!gh area
g. ro!gh person
h. ro!gh text!re
15. -hat are the complementaries o the ollowing:
a.dead c.same e.imperect!e d.animate
1!. 2onsider the ollowing ver"al complementaries and ind o!t the lexical items that
set the scene or complementarity:
a) re!te Jadmit ) stay .lea$e
b) deend Js!bmit g) accept Jt!rn down
c) obey Jdisobey h) yield .resist
d) li$e Jdie i) win Jlose
e) remember Jorget
17. 1ill in the gaps in these lexical triplets in$ol$ing complementarity#
a) shoot (in ootball) . sa$e .MM
b) p!nch .MMM. ta,e
c) MM . ,eep on J stop
d) re0!est .MM. J re!se
e) greet .MM. J sn!b
) aim J hit .MM
18. /ransorm the sentences below by !sing converse terms:
1. /om is IaryBs brother. Iary is ...
:. ;a$id is IargaretBs nephew. Iargaret is ...
Nse the pattern abo$e in !rther examples.
19. /o each o the ollowing grada"le antonyms add the rest o the scale:
e.g. %IK : h!ge3 $ery big3 %IK 3 0!ite big3 medi!m .si#ed3 0!ite small3 SIA""3 tiny
1. hot3 cold (water) F. interesting3 boring (a ilm)
:. lo$e3 hate 6. good3 bad (a boo,)
20. ;ecide whether the ollowing pairs contain grada"le terms or not:
a) male Jemale e) top .bottom
b) tr!e Jalse ) cle$er .st!pid
c) hot Jcold g) married .!nmarried
d) lo$e Jhate h) dead Jali$e
21. ;ecide whether the ollowing pairs are converses or not:
a) below J abo$e d) conceal . re$eal
b) li,e . disli,e e) greater than J lesser than
c) grandparent J grandchild ) own J belong to