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."

  • 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
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    For want of an officially appointed antonym, people have been using enshallow in serious formal writing, so as not to be ambiguous in context. "the deflected springs return to their normal condition and enshallow the V grooves" "roughening effects eliminate cusps in the γ plot for planes of comparatively high Miller indices and enshallow the cusps of planes of low Miller ..." " that seems to both enshallow the trough, and shorten its duration" "the added control provided by economic nationalism could enshallow the global recession" even "Trust me to enshallow my love." – Kris Sep 23 '14 at 13:38
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    Since the causative -en suffix (and prefix) are not productive, it's pretty much chance that has preserved the causative -en words like deepen, whiten, blacken, redden, and not the equally sensible but nonexistent shallowen, bluen, yellowen, colden, there's no reason to expect that there will be any antonym. – John Lawler Sep 23 '14 at 14:27

12 Answers 12


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
  • @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
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    Google N-gram viewer shows zero usage of "shallow" as a verb (from 1500 to the present year). It has all the appearance of a nonce word that never gained traction. Nobody uses it. – Canis Lupus Aug 24 '14 at 7:12

For this context I suggest "lessen":

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

  • It works in the context I had in mind as well : "... But the Unix side strives to deepen, while the Windows side strives to lessen ..." – Agi Hammerthief Sep 30 '14 at 14:22

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.

  • 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

for the example you've given,

removing the anvil lightens the depression?


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


I suggest fill

Don't deepen the hole fill it!

  • Or fill in – b.roth Feb 2 '11 at 14:33
  • I'm not sure that's suitable for the context I wanted: "The Unix philosophy is based around thorough understanding; the Windows philosophy is based around thorough simplicity. Both sides look down on the other, of course; both believe the other is inferior. But the Unix side strives to deepen, while the Windows side strives to ___ [the learning curve]" -- over-yonder.net/~fullermd/rants/winstupid/2 – Agi Hammerthief Sep 30 '14 at 14:20
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    I'm guess you're looking for "flatten". – Matt E. Эллен Sep 30 '14 at 14:29

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


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).


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".


I think the word "deepen" is slightly incorrect in this context, which is why it seems so difficult to find a matching antonym. As said before, deepen is often referred to in different context, like digging.

In your context, I would say that a depression in the mattress already is a "deepening". I feel like deepen is a pleonasm in this sentence.

I would rather say that an anvil increases the depression, and removing the anvil will decrease the depression. This antonym is much more natural and common, and you avoid the pleonasm which makes things difficult.


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 '14 at 1:32

If you were digging a hole in the ground, you would deepen it by removing more dirt. You would make it less deep by filling it in.

Here fill in is a verbal phrase.

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