What are the differences between an "opposite" and "antonym"?


For all practical purposes, the two are equivalent when used to describe words*.

Etymologically, "opposite" came to us from Latin, via French, while "antonym" came from Greek, also via French.

Latin: oppositus, or "set against"

Greek: ant- + onuma, or "against a name"

*as mentioned in my comment below, if the context is not limited to the description of words, then an antonym is a very specific type of opposite -- an opposite of another word.

  • 3
    I noticed that your question title and question text are subtly different, the latter omits "...to a word". In that context, they are the same. In the broader context, the difference is that an antonym is an opposite of a specific kind -- an opposite of another word. – David Mar 9 '11 at 6:14
  • I think your last point is key. When you're talking about the concepts that words describe, you use 'opposite' when you're talking about the words themselves, you use 'antonym'. E.g. Hot is the opposite of cold / The word hot is an antonym of the word cold. – JeffUK Jul 23 '17 at 11:08

As of now Wikipedia is considering both the same. That is, if you search there for Antonym you will reach at a page titled Opposite(Semantics)

But then again, at the top of the article, Wikipedia notes that

This article needs attention from an expert on the subject. See the talk page for details. WikiProject Linguistics or the Linguistics Portal may be able to help recruit an expert. (November 2008)

And if you go to the talk page, you will get plenty of reasons why Antonym should never have been moved to Opposite (semantics)

And that article argues that Antonym is different from Opposite with very valid points.

A good excerpt will be

"Antonym" is very much a definitive linguistic term unlike the imprecise "Opposite" which is not saved by the pretentious "(semantics)" tag. "Opposite" can be anything, "antonym" can be only one thing.


North is the opposite, but not the antonym, of south.

Antonym means word with opposite meaning".

Opposite and antonym are not synonymous.


In what context?

Opposing is to be against something. The anti-thesis, an enemy of something. Rust is opposite of steel.

Antonym is just a word that is opposite of another.

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