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Since there is no word "shallowen", is there a good antonym of "deepen"? The meaning of "deepen" that I am referring to here is "to cause to become deeper." It doesn't necessarily refer to digging a hole. For example, a temporary deformation in a soft surface:

Putting the anvil on the mattress deepens the depression in it, but removing the anvil ______ it.

I would also be happy with an antonym of the intransitive version "to become deeper."

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Nice question :) –  Jimi Oke Feb 2 '11 at 14:30
Re: your edit, one verb that can be both transitive and intransitive is flatten, but it's kind of the opposite of heighten rather than deepen... –  RegDwigнt Feb 2 '11 at 16:00
Thanks for all the answers. Although there apparently is a word in English that fits the bill exactly, i.e. "shallow", I would probably prefer "lighten" (from @JoseK) or "level" (from @chaos) for most applications. –  ptomato Feb 2 '11 at 23:49
What would you do if asked to "shallow(en)" something? I can answer the question depending on the action you say you would perform. :) –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 5:48
I don't think there's a single word that is the exact opposite. The exact opposite is found in 'make shallower'. –  Mitch Feb 25 '13 at 13:55

10 Answers 10

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Shallow can be used as a transitive or intransitive verb (who knew!).

To be honest, I haven't heard it used very often (I would normally say that something was shallow, not that it shallowed), but it doesn't sound very strange to me either.

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Seriously? I've never heard that before at all, and if I'd seen it in print I would have assumed it was a mistake. But you did provide a link to a serious dictionary ;-) If only they'd provided some context about whether it was current, or fell out of use long ago! It seems to be in the public domain 1913 Webster and they cite Thomas Browne (1605-1682). –  ptomato Feb 2 '11 at 23:47
I suppose I'll accept this one as the most literally correct answer. –  ptomato Feb 2 '11 at 23:48
@ptomato: I haven't been able to find any usage notes either, but I think I've heard it used as the antonym of deepen: "The lake shallowed over time." or "the silt brought down by mountain streams shallowed the lake". I wonder why we don't hear this verb used more often. Perhaps it is because when you say to shallow, the "shallower" that did the shallowing seems to get lost, if that makes any sense :-). This was a good question, though. –  Tragicomic Feb 3 '11 at 12:00
Really? Are you sure? –  B Seven Oct 28 '11 at 23:07
re. 'who knew!': hm... I had known this, having read somewhere earlier. But, hello, what do you do when you 'shallow' (out) something? Backfill? Drain the water a bit so it is effectively shallower? Some other more creative solution? Just can't imagine. :) –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 5:51

For this context I suggest "lessen":

Putting the anvil on the mattress deepens the depression in it, but removing the anvil lessens it.

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for the example you've given,

removing the anvil lightens the depression?

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Deepen has two meanings.

  • Deepen = Dig out

Antonym: Fill in

  • Deepen = intensify

Antonym: weaken

In the example above you can use the word mount or hollow out.

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The first meaning is close to what I want, but "deepen" doesn't actually have to refer to digging. See my edit. –  ptomato Feb 2 '11 at 14:41

I suggest fill

Don't deepen the hole fill it!

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Or fill in –  b.roth Feb 2 '11 at 14:33

You could use any of a number of parallel antonyms: decrease, decline, shrink, etc.

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I think you'll generally need to use different terms in particular contexts, but one that may be fairly useful is level.

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Putting the anvil on the mattress deepens the depression in it, but removing the anvil eases it.

Ease: (7) to mitigate, lighten, or lessen; (8) to release from pressure, tension, or the like.

Putting the anvil on the mattress deepens the depression in it, but removing the anvil diminishes it.

Diminish: to make or cause to seem smaller, less, less important, etc.; lessen; reduce.

You could say "the size of the hole deepens"/"the size of the hole diminishes".

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Similar to shallowing it, you can also


Like waters 'raised' or 'lifted' from the ground. You can also 'draw up' such things, from water, to fabrics. (albeit that's a phrase).

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Shoal is also applicable, occasionally used in oceanographic literature.

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Removing the anvil does not shoal the mattress or the depression. I don't think this word really fits OP's usage. –  Jim Aug 24 at 1:32
This does not really answer the question. If you have a different question, you can ask it by clicking Ask Question. You can also add a bounty to draw more attention to this question once you have enough reputation. –  Canis Lupus Aug 24 at 5:09

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