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Consider these sentences:

  • "I improved my essay."

  • "I made an improvement to my essay."

  • "How much did you improve your essay?"

  • "What improvements did you make to your essay?"

What would I say, if I meant the opposite, like

  • "I changed my essay in a negative way."

  • "I made a change to my essay that negatively affected it."

  • "How much did you change your essay in a negative way?"

  • "How many negative changes did you make to your essay?"

Ideally, this would be a word or short phrase that would work well in other sentences too.

EDIT Additional example:

  • "Most improvements were due to me, but this one was made by John."

I'm looking for a verb and a noun. (They don't have to share the same stem, though that'd be great if they did.)

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Did you check here? – tchrist May 11 '14 at 21:47
@tchrist, yes. Generally speaking, the quality of that resource for finding antonyms is poor compared to the insight that ESE brings. – Paul Draper May 11 '14 at 21:53

I think I like regress(ed|ion) or deteriorat(ed|ion).

Comparing the words to "worsen" [which I believe is barely English].


My essay quality deteriorated as I made each edit.

How did your essay regress after making changes?



regress: return to a former or less developed state.

deteriorate: become progressively worse.

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"I degraded [the {quality / standard} of] my essay".

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So what would call that if you need a noun...a degregation? – Paul Draper May 11 '14 at 20:00
A degradation. – Erik Kowal May 11 '14 at 20:06

You can use worsen.

I worsened my essay and so on.

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The patient did not improve; she worsened.

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And the noun form...a worsening? ("Those worsenings to my essay were made by Jack.") – Paul Draper May 11 '14 at 20:01
Yes..........but its use is not extremely common. – Gary's Student May 11 '14 at 20:07
I hardly hear worsen. – RyeɃreḁd May 11 '14 at 20:33
I came across this word recently in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (translated by F. P. Walter). Good book, but don't read the abridged versions. – Tucker May 11 '14 at 21:36
@RyeɃreḁd I agree...I rarely hear any antonyms for progress – Gary's Student May 11 '14 at 21:42

Pejorate: To make worse; to deteriorate or to worsen. Synonyms for pejorate

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Ruined: Cause great and usually irreparable damage or harm to; have a disastrous effect on. (Also consider: destroyed)

Note, this word can also have a positive connotation depending on its use.

I rewrote my essay and completely ruined it!

I messed/f*cked it up: Same as above, more expressive (informal and/or offensive/impolite).

Note, unlike the former suggestion, these do not (and most likely will not) have a positive connotation, just varying degrees of negativity.

I rewrote my essay and completely messed/f*cked it up.

I hit a wall with my car and completely messed/f*cked it up.

Parvum opus

The opposite to Magnum opus (Latin for 'Greatest/best work'). Parvum opus literally means 'small work'. In this context you could say:

I wrote an excellent essay, my magnum opus, but after editing it I've turned it into a parvum opus instead.

Addendum: These can all be applied to 3rd person.

John ruined my essay.

John messed/f*cked my essay up.

John turned my beautiful essay into a parvum opus.

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Consider "corrupt" and "corruption."

corrupt: to alter (a language, text, etc.) for the worse; debase.

  • "I corrupted my essay."

  • "I made a corruption to my essay."

  • "How much did you corrupt your essay?"

  • "How many corruptions did you make to your essay?"

  • "What corruptions did you make to your essay?"

  • "Most corruptions were due to me, but this one was made by John.

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Most of your sentences don't make sense in English. – RyeɃreḁd May 11 '14 at 22:12
@RyeɃreḁd You bet they don't make sense. Do you know a lot of people that would change their essay to make it worse? Come on, RB! ;-) – Elian May 11 '14 at 22:31
I am talking about grammatically they hardly make sense. – RyeɃreḁd May 11 '14 at 22:32

I would use the following for each of your examples:

I harmed my essay.


I damaged my essay.

or, better:

I made my essay worse.

The others are a bit harder, how about:

Did you make it much worse?

How did you harm your essay?


How did you make your essay worse?

I don't think you'll find a verb that is the direct antonym of improve. You will have to change your sentences around and use different words depending on the context and what it is that you have harmed/worsened/destroyed/spoiled/broken etc.

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You could say:

  • I clogged the improvement of my essay.
  • I hampered the progress of my essay.
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Thank you. I'm new here. – Mikael Hickma May 12 '14 at 6:09

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