View table of contents for this book View table of contents for LinguaLinksLibrary Go to LinguaLinks home page

What is an opposite lexical relation?



Some cultures base their world view on the dichotomy of opposites. Other cultures recognize relatively few sets of opposite concepts.


An opposite lexical relation is an association between two lexical units which have the opposite core meanings in some contexts.

Examples (English)

Here are some kinds of opposites in English, their definitions, and example sets:

  • Kind

    Definition and comment

    Example set


    Opposites that have mutually exclusive properties. For example, if people are not dead, they must be alive.

    {(dead, alive), (true, false), (open, shut), (male, female)}


    Opposites that are at two corresponding points or ranges of a scale. For example, if something is not long, it is not necessarily short. There is neutral ground on the scale.

    {(long, short), (good, bad), (hot, cold), (warm, cool)}

    Directional converses

    Opposites marking the two directions along an axis.

    {(east, west), (up, down), (convex, concave)}

    Relational converses

    Opposites which specify the relative positions of two entities on opposite sides or poles of a spatial or relational axis.

    {(above, below), (in front of, behind)}; {(doctor, patient), (teacher, pupil), (master, servant), (husband, wife)}

  • Source:

    Cruse 1986 199, 204, 223, 232

  • Underlying structure

    The underlying structure of an opposite set is a set of pairs.


    Here are some kinds of frames for opposites in English, with examples:

  • Kind




    If something is not X, then it has to be Y.

    If something is not true, then it has to be false.


    When measuring or judging in a certain way, something can be either X or Y, or it can be neither.

    When measuring temperature, something can be either hot or cold, or it can be neither.

    Directional converses

    If something goes (or faces) X and it turns around, it goes (or faces) Y.

    If something goes up and it turns around, it goes down.

    If something is X, oriented the other way it is Y.

    If something is convex, oriented the other way it is concave.

    Relational converses

    Something is X (in relation to something else). If it is on the opposite side, it is Y.

    Something is in front of the house. If it is on the opposite side, it is behind.

    An X and a Y make up an R relationship.

    A husband and a wife make up a marriage relationship.

  • Context for this page:

    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

    Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

    © 2004 SIL International