Semantics is a branch of linguistics which studies about meaning in language. Shortly, semantics concerns the study of meaning. There is relation among a word and the other words in semantics. It is called meaning relation. Basically, the principle of meaning relation consists of four major fields, such as synonymy, antonymy, polisemy, and hyponymy. Synonymy concerns the sameness of meaning, while antonymy concerns the oppositeness of meaning. The focus here is on antonymy which has a sense of relation, as well as synonymy. Sense is the meaning of word, especially the conceptual meaning in which it is usually derived from definition of the lexical items which can be found in dictionaries.

Antonymy is oppositeness of meaning between a word and the other word or among words in the same part of speech, such as good-bad (adjective-adjective) and fast-slowly (adverb-adverb). According to Lyons (1977:286) who states that antonymy covers the relation between lexical items whose meanings stand in opposition to each other and it is often thought as the opposite of synonymy. There are 2 issues which will be discuss here ; three kinds of antonymy and problem in differentiating the type of antonymy.

Palmer (1982:94-100) classifies three kinds of antonymy, those are : gradable antonymy, complementary antonymy, and relational antonymy.

  1. Gradable Antonymy

This type describes something which can be measured and compared with something else. For instance, if a truck can run 260 km/hour and the other one can run 200 km/hour, the first truck is fast and the other one is slow. This type is the commonest type of antonymy. Gradable antonymy deals with the level of words, it means that there is something/anything between. For instance, the one can say today is not hot, it may mean today is not cold. There is scale or space exist between hot and cold, it is warm. The other examples of gradable antonymy are shown below :






There are three characteristics of gradable antonymy. Firstly, as the name suggests, they are gradable. The members of a pair differ in terms of degree. It is related to the explanation above. If something is not A, then it is not merely B, it can be C or D or E or etc. It may simply be “so-so” or “average”. To make them become super, they can be modified by “very”. Something may be very hot or very cold. And they may have comparative and superlative degrees. Sometimes the intermediate degrees may be lexicalized. They may be expressed by separate words rather than by adding modifiers. For example, the term for the size which is neither big nor small is medium. And between the two extremes of temperature hot and cold, there are warm and cool, which form a pair of antonyms themselves, and may have a further intermediate term lukewarm.

Second, this antonymy is graded against different norms. There is no absolute criterion by which we may say something is wet or dry, long or short, big or small. The criterion varies with the object described. A big ant is in fact much smaller than a small plane. A microwave is giant by the standard of microorganism. In this case, there is no such absolute requirement to make a standard of something to say in what grade they should be placed.

The third, very often one is marked and the other unmarked of gradable antonymy. The unmarked member is more neutral than the marked one and it is used in questions of degree. For example, we ask “How old are you?” rather than” How young are you? “; “How long is it?” rather than “How short is it’?” Thus old and long are the unmarked members of old/young and long/short. Of the antonymous pair hot/cold, hot is unmarked and cold marked. In the same fashion, big is unmarked and small marked; tall is unmarked and short unmarked.

Technically, the cover term is called “unmarked”, i.e. usual; and the covered “marked”, or unusual. That means, in general, it is the cover term that it is more often used. If the covered is used, then it suggests that there is something odd, unusual here. The speaker may already know that somebody/something is young, small, near and he wants to know the extent in greater detail. This characteristic is also reflected in the corresponding nouns, such as length, height, width, breadth and depth, which are cognates of the cover terms.

2.      Complementary Antonymy

This is the second type of antonymy which is very different from the first type. If something is A, then it is not B. If something is X, then it is Y. This the example of complementary antonymy. If something is on, then it is not off. The examples of complementary antonymy are shown below :







Complementary antonymy is the meaning of the word is absolute, not relative (reverse to gradable type), there is only one possibility of meaning which is fixed, there is no intermediate ground between two of them. If dead is existing, then one is not alive. There is no word to be existed between dead and alive, the word “half dead” is not possible to be put to state one is neither dead nor alive.

3.      Relational Antonymy

In the relational antonymy, the pairs of words are the reversal of a relationship of words. Palmer (1982) gives some examples below :







According to the name of this type, between the two words have the relation. For instance, parent and child. Someone can’t be called parent if she/he doesn’t have child, and vice versa. To summarize, one exists only because the other does.

This is a special type of antonymy in which the members of a pair do not constitute a positive-negative opposition. They show the reversal of a relationship between two entities. X buys something from Y means the same as Y sells something to X. X is the parent of Y means the same as Y is the child of X. It is the same relationship seen from two different angles.

Those three types of antonymy are proposes by Palmer (1982). Futhermore, there is another type of antonymy, it is multiple antonymy.

Multiple Antonymy

Multiple antonymy is a word which has more than one opposition or it can be said the opposition of A is not merely because B has opposite meaning. For example, the antonym of happy can be sad, angry, disappointed, or disgruntled. It depends on the cause of it. It means that if the quality of one is lessened, it does not follow that the other is necessarily increased. Mira could be not happy without being more sad, for the reason that her happines is being diminished by her anger because her boyfriend decides to dump her.

In conclusion, according to Palmer (1982), the core of antonymy is the oppositeness of meaning, whether it is in gradable or complementary or relational, even in multiple form. With gradable and complementary, one may say A is good without presupposing B. It means that a matter with A has nothing to do with B. However, when one talks about relational antonymy, it must be always two sides. If she is a parent, then she has already had a child/children. Similarly, one cannot simply say “He is a son” without mentioning his parents. Now, some people may argue that we can say “He is a child“. However, this is a different sense of child. The word child here means “somebody under the age of 18”. In this sense, it is opposite to adult. When a man is above 18, he is no longer a child. In contrast, used in the sense of child opposite to parent, a man is always a child to his parents. Even when he is 80, he is still a child to his father and mother. Another word which may cause some trouble is teacher. It can be used in the sense of a profession. So, one can say “He is a teacher“, as against any other occupation, such as journalist, writer, actor, musician, or doctor. In the sense opposite to student, however, a man is a teacher only to his students. To other people, he is not a teacher. And to his own teacher, he becomes a student.



Adisutrisno, D. Wagiman. 2008. Semantics : an introduction to the basics concepts. Bandung: PENERBIT ANDI., accessed on December, 13rd 2012, accessed on December, 13rd 2012, accessed on December, 13rd 2012


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