Some examples are a negative connotation, Don't be so negative!, or Be positive!

Is it proper to use these words this way? The denotations of negative and positive support this use weakly. However, I frequently correct people (being a semantics freak) and tell them that a negative statement is a statement that denies, while a positive statement is one that affirms.

An Ask.com question is very ambiguous on this issue. It seems that these two words are more useful in these meanings in a very casual setting.

What are the best meanings for these words, and the best words for these meanings?

How about (un)desirable or (un)favorable or eulogic/panegyric: are these words suitable alternatives for positive/negative in formal settings?

  • 7
    Well, HIV Positive definitely doesn't have positive connotations...
    – SF.
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:35
  • @SF. I was just about to say the same thing! Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:36
  • 2
    Not if you're an electron.
    – user24964
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 12:37
  • 1
    The words have multiple meanings. You've been correcting people incorrectly. (And Ask.com is a terrible place to ask anything.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 12:13

3 Answers 3


Positive and negative mean exactly what they seem to mean. They are the most straightforward ways to express good or bad when used as adjectives. I am excluding other contexts e.g. mathematics, as that is terminology.

The synonyms listed have additional connotations, so you shouldn't use them unless you want to convey those additional meanings.

  • Desirable - Describes a useful, but not mandatory, attribute. Also can be used to describe a positive attribute of sexuality. Use this word only if the additional nuance is helpful, instead of confusing (and possibly embarrassing).
  • Eulogy - Used as a noun, specifically, as a posthumous speech of praise to the deceased. If used in the wrong context, e.g. software development, it will cause confusion i.e. as a metaphor for a no longer supported product. Eulogic is NOT a word.
  • Panegyric - Yes, that means praiseworthy. Encomium means praise. Both are stilted and inappropriate for everyday usage. In a formal setting, laudatory would probably be best. It is more comprehensible and familiar. If the setting is not formal, positive is a better word choice.
  • 1
    I have never heard of panegyric before, and I would hesitate using the word even in a formal setting at the risk of alienating my readers/listeners when I know positive does the job. Think of all the words we use negative and positive with: outlook, result, test, thinking, opinion, connotation, energy, charge, etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 10:55
  • 1
    "Panegyric" is a good word, but the only writer in whose works I have come across it is Jane Austen, and she used it as a noun. I might use it if I was seeking a positive word that would nevertheless alienate my audience, just for the irony. Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 20:59
  • @KaiserOctavius But that's positively mean of you! :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 21:40
  • @Mari-LouA I mostly agree with you. OP suggested "eulogic" and panegyric as alternatives to positive, not I. Kaiser, I thought it was a noun too, but wasn't certain, and was too lazy to check. Thank you for the validation! Commented Jul 16, 2013 at 23:58
  • 3
    The word "negative" does not always refer to the opposite of "positive." It can also mean the opposite of "affirmative."
    – Adrian W
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 8:28

Usage of positive and negative for good and bad respectively is widespread but pretentious. This goes beyond the commonplace and perverse preference for the trisyllable over the monosyllable, as utilize for use: those who use positive and negative in this way are pretending to be scientifically objective or otherwise "non-judgmental" while in fact expressing a value judgment. My vote goes resoundingly for the unabashed use of good and bad no matter how formal or informal the context.

As for panegyric, it is adjectival in form but most commonly used as a noun, as many Greek adjectives were and are (like rhetoric). Its original meaning is appropriate to a public festival. As applied to discourse, therefore (as in the title of one of Isocrates' written pretend-orations), it means what Aristotle calls epideictic rhetoric, which he declares naturally deals in praise and blame. In English the word has come to mean a speech of praise. By adding the Latin adjectival reflex to the Greek one, we form the adjective panegyrical, which has a somewhat Shandean ring to it.

  • Hello Brian. Do you include the use of 'negative' where 'pessimistic, defeatist, gloomy, cynical, fatalistic, dismissive, antipathetic, critical ...' [Google] might instead be chosen as'pretentious'? The dictionary doesn't mark it as so. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:02
  • No, I think that is a separate matter, though perhaps the only "negative attitude" that is quite perfectly so termed is that of Goethe's devil Mephistopheles, who introduces himself to Faust as "der Geist der stets verneint" (the spirit who always negates). He is cynical and critical but not in the least defeatist or gloomy. Where any one of your alternatives really hits the mark, it should probably be preferred over negative. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:55
  • 1
    I can't imagine Oddball coming out with 'Stop hitting me with those bad / pessimistic / gloomy ... vibes'. Commented May 21, 2014 at 18:31

I frequently correct people (being a semantics freak) and tell them that a negative statement is a statement that denies, while a positive statement is one that affirms.

You're close. The word negative suffers from multiple meanings and few synonyms. In the sense you are using it, "negative" is correct, but the opposite of negative is not "positive." The opposite of "negative" in this sense is "affirmative."

If I were to restate your sentence then,

...a negative statement is a statement that negates (same meaning as denies in this sense), while an affirmative statement is one that affirms.

In this sense, a negative statement would be "I am not a cat." Meanwhile, an affirmative statement would be "I am a human being."

Negative and positive are opposites in other senses. Mathematically, there are positive (+) numbers, and negative (-) numbers. I can have a positive (good) attitude, or a negative (bad) attitude.

Just as "good" is the opposite of "bad" and of "evil," "negative"s meaning depends on what you contrast it with. I hope this helps!

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