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What are Synonyms and Antonyms?

Synonyms and antonyms are both mechanics of language arts that are easy to use, but just as easy to confuse. Although these words sound similar, they are actually complete opposites. But what do synonyms and antonyms mean? Synonyms refer to words that have the same or similar meaning to another word. Antonyms are words that mean the exact opposite of another word. For example, sadness is an antonym of happiness.


A synonym is a word that has a similar meaning to another word. The word derives from many different dialects, the earliest being the Greek sunonumon. Others include French synonyme and Latin synonymum. Many more synonyms exist than antonyms because most words in the English language have another word with a very close connotation. Synonyms are important in writing because they add variance to text, especially longer transcripts where the repetition of the same word or phrase can be off-putting to the reader. Using the same phrases repeatedly can become boring for the audience and steer them away from the piece.

Synonym Examples

Some basic examples of synonyms include:

  • Good: great, wonderful, amazing, fantastic
  • Big: large, huge, giant, gigantic, sizeable
  • Beautiful: pretty, attractive, alluring, charming
  • Smart: brilliant, clever, intelligent, sharp, astute
  • Negative: bad, poor, bleak, cynical
  • Happy: joyful, ecstatic, gleeful, content, jovial
  • Tired: sleepy, drowsy, lethargic, sluggish
  • Hungry: starving, famished, ravenous, unfilled
  • Dog: Canine, hound, pup, mutt
  • Money: cash, currency, capital, finances

It may be simple to come up with synonyms for individual words, but incorporating them into writing can be a little more challenging. Research into specific topics can make writers want to use a certain language to describe them, but it is important to also keep the information interesting by varying the word choice in the document.

For instance, someone writing an article on “Protestant Beliefs” will likely be inclined to scribe an analysis that uses variances of the word “believe”. Synonyms that could replace this word and add flavor to the text could be “regard”, “accept”, or “consider” when used in the correct context. The writer may also heavily talk about “religion”, and could swap the word for “faith” or “creed” as necessary. The addition of these options into the text attempts to keep the reader more engaged in the article, and further shows the expertise of the writer in working the mechanics of the English language to better fit their objectives. For example:

The experienced pilot landed his nonfunctioning aircraft on the Hudson River.

The skilled pilot landed his inoperable plane on the Hudson River.

Notice that three words in the second sentence have changed, those being “experienced” to “skilled”, “nonfunctioning” to “inoperative”, and “aircraft” to “plane”. These three sets may have changed, but the meaning of the sentence is the exact same.


Antonyms are the opposites of a word, and also happen to be the opposite of a synonym!

what is synonyms and antonyms

Antonyms are words that hold the opposite definition of another word and are therefore the opposite of synonyms. The etymology of “antonym” is traced back to Greek roots “anti” + “onym”, but a modern understanding of the term is drawn off of French antonyme and German antonym, which are actually older. Formerly, antonyms were called counterterms. Antonyms are generally easier to identify because there are fewer of them in the English dialect, though they are used less commonly in writing. If used in literature, they may be applied for comparison or contradiction.

Types of Antonyms

There are three types of antonyms: Graded, Relational/Converse, and Complementary.

Graded Antonyms: Opposite words that have more than one antonym whose meanings vary.

  • Big/Large/Huge and Small/Tiny/Little
  • Good/Great/Amazing and Bad/Poor/Disappointing

Relational/Converse Antonyms: Pairs of words that exist only because they depend on the other word to exist.

  • Father/Mother
  • Doctor/Patient
  • Teacher/Student

Complementary Antonym: Pairs of words that can independently exist and are not on a gradient.

  • Yes/No
  • Positive/Negative
  • Hot/Cold

Antonym Examples

How can an antonym be used in writing? Charles Dickens famously exemplifies and shows us how in his historical fiction A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is full of antonyms! The 1917 American drama was based on the book.

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