Considering that:

  • The antonym of day is night.
  • The antonym of light can be either darkness or obscurity.

Is there any exact antonym for daylight, a word that would mean "the darkness of the night", the same way daylight means "the light of day"?

I would use darkness in a conversation, but darkness is not necessarily associated with the night : it could be used to describe a dark room even when it's sunny outside. However, daylight cannot be used to describe a room lightened by a light bulb when it's dark outside.

Edit : I do not specifically look for a word recognised by a dictionary. A neologism used by a published author, and a culture reference would also be interesting.

Edit 2 : From tchrist's answer, it is now clear that no single-word expression exists for the concept I'm talking about (which is why I accepted the answer). However, moonshine, moonlight cannot match correctly since they define light, when the question is about defining night darkness. This reminds me of something Einstein once supposedly said to a teacher :

There is no such thing as darkness. Darkness is nothing but the absence of light.

From this, while it is possible to stand in the daylight, one couldn't stand in night darkness, since darkness is nothing to be standing in. Similarly, while you can be in water, you can't actually be in dryness.

  • Night-time perhaps...
    – mplungjan
    Jul 14, 2014 at 14:25
  • @mplungjan Nighttime would match daytime, that is, a period of time considered as "the night". It is more related to time than to light or darkness to me... Jul 14, 2014 at 14:26
  • Night's dark may be more specific...
    – user66974
    Jul 14, 2014 at 14:29
  • Who says there even has to be an antonym!? Jul 15, 2014 at 6:10
  • 1
    @curiousdannii The guy with the accepted answer doesn't. Jul 15, 2014 at 10:59

3 Answers 3


TL;DR — You aren’t likely to find something perfectly suitable through your approach to creating a compound word with both parts flipped. Folks normally use either in the dark or else by dark or by night to oppose in/by daylight. However, you might try moonshine.

Dictionary Sources

The OED gives several examples of nightblack used to mean as dark as night, including these two:

  • 1817 Shelley Rev. Islam i. lii, ― On nightblack columns poised.
  • 1872 Tennyson Gareth & Lynette 1346 ― High on a nightblack horse, in nightblack arms.

It also attests the existence of night-dark, as in this citation:

  • 1879 E. Arnold Lt. Asia 39 ― The night-dark steed.

What’s an Antonym?

I don’t think you will ever get a one-word opposite of daylight that fits perfectly in all places where daylight is used. Daylight a very old word dating from the thirteenth century which has come to be used in numerous ways:

  • as a noun with any of several completely different meanings:
    • the light of day
    • the period between dawn and dusk
    • the moment when the sun first clears the horizon, so dawn, daybreak, sunrise
    • public awareness
    • the space between two things
  • as an attributive noun like daylight hours
  • as an adjective like in daylighted buildings or daylighting techniques
  • in opposition to the adjective standard in time zone names like Mountain Daylight Time opposed to Mountain Standard Time
  • as a verb (both transitive and intransitive) for bringing something to the surface, like a buried creek or building
  • in idiomatic expressions like to burn daylight and the living daylights

The top twenty collocations from COCA that immediately precede daylight are in order of occurrence broad, during, before, eastern, into, see, until, full, bright, still, local, saw, natural, pacific, enough, fading, central, seen, open, and ambient.

The top twenty collocations from COCA that immediately follow daylight are in order of occurrence hours, time, saving, savings, left, between, basement, came, film, outside, raids, streams, faded, comes, fades, bombing, attack, raid, revealed, and pours.

Your antonym presumably has to work in most of those places, and I don’t think you are going to come up with one. You appear to believe that one can derive a reversible antonym of a compound word by inverting each of its pieces and putting them back together again. That is not going to work in the general case, and it does not in general work here in this specific one either. These are almost none of them sensible:

  • weekend: daystart
  • today: fromnight
  • tomorrow: yestereve
  • everyday: nonight
  • moonlight: sundark, stardark
  • sunup: moondown, shadedown
  • latterday: formerdark
  • yuleday: lithenight
  • day watchman: night listenwomen
  • sunrise: moonset, shadefall, nightfall
  • daylaborer: nightleisurer
  • lifetime: deathspace
  • daywork: nightplay
  • firework: waterplay

As you see, most of those just don’t work at all. Sometimes you even find yourself back to the same place you started due to “double negation”, such as when you oppose sunup with shadedown — which would mean the same thing.

Published Examples

I’m not very fond of question that ask for neologisms, since that becomes nothing but a list question. However, because you limited it to actual published words, there is some small hope of rescuing your question.

Now, you have chosen to limit the sense of daylight to the first one I listed above, which also happens to be its oldest use: the light of day, the day’s light. That’s unfortunate because the only reasonable opposite for light of day is dark of night.

However, you do often find moonshine used as an opponent to daylight. For example:

He found he could hide from daylight and moonshine, and make his way swiftly and softly by dead of night with his pale cold eyes, and catch small frightened or unwary things.

         ―The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

On the other hand, you have by night opposing by daylight here:

Though I could forget it by daylight, forcing it, so to speak, away from my consciousness with worries about the presence or absence of soldiers, and the thousand lovely images of peak and cataract and swooping valley that assailed my eyes on every side, it returned by night, when, huddled in my blanket and cloak and burning with fever, I believed I heard the soft padding of its feet, the scraping of its claws.

         ―Sword of the Lictor, by Gene Wolfe

Neither of those are new words; they’re just what people use, and so probably what you should use as well.

If you had elected the “sunrise” sense instead, there actually are neologisms coined by published authors for what the opposite of that would be. For example, Gene Wolfe uses shadelow and shadeup in his Book of the Short Sun and Book of the Long Sun portions of his Solar Cycle.

From shadeup to shadelow, the sun had been a torrent of white fire across a dazzling sky; the wind, fair and strong at morning, had veered and died away to a breeze, to an occasional puff, and by the time the market closed, to nothing.

         ―Caldé of the Long Sun, by Gene Wolfe

“You think I couldn’t? You think it because I’ve always been gentle with you for your mother’s sake. It wasn’t like that in my family, believe me. Or in hers either. If you find yourself begging me before shadelow tomorrow,” to emphasize my point, I struck the table with the handle of the knife, “will you admit you were wrong? Are you man enough for that?”

         ―On Blue’s Waters, by Gene Wolfe

A round gold sun that walks across the sky during the course of the day, and vanishes into the sea at shadelow.

         ―Return to the Whorl, by Gene Wolfe

It’s too bad you have chosen the “light of day” sense of daylight, because Wolfe’s coinings are appealing for describing the dark and shady period between shadelow and shadeup.

  • While nighttime is related to time, nightblack seems to be more related to colour. I actually never heard that one though, and I quite like it... Thing is, I could not reverse the "antonym process" and get back to daylight... Jul 14, 2014 at 14:34
  • @JohnWHSmith Well, if you don’t want a temporal answer and you don’t want a chromatic answer, what is it that you are looking for? This whole “antonym process” notion does not strike me as sound.
    – tchrist
    Jul 14, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    Daylight does not refer to either time, or colour. It might refer to brightness or simply the presence of sunlight. That's where I find a little (insignificant?) difference. I can't match "light" with "colour", but I'll admit the two notions are very close indeed. Jul 14, 2014 at 14:41
  • 1
    @JohnWHSmith Surely dark and light are opposites, and black is used as a stand-in for dark. It’s not as though black, grey, and white are different hues.
    – tchrist
    Jul 14, 2014 at 14:45
  • I did not see it see way indeed... Yet, while I could say "in the daylight", "in the nightblack/night-dark" does not sound correct, as it would rather be expected as an adjective. Daylight can be used as a noun, and that's something I'm looking for... I am sorry if my question's not clear though. Jul 14, 2014 at 14:58

How about maybe: night darkness ? nightfall ? dimness ?

  • 1
    Night darkness is a nice composition, and that's what I'd go for if no single-word expression matched. On the other hand, nightfall describes to process of switching between daylight and night darkness (or word-I-am-looking-for). Jul 14, 2014 at 14:37
  • Well, after all (correct me if wrong), daylight seems to be composed by "day" used as an adjective + light. Night darkness would be almost parallel, except that, perhaps, being "darkness" itself a bit long, it seems strange to make a "unique" word.
    – Pam
    Jul 14, 2014 at 14:43
  • I have found no such word in usual dictionaries, but I just asked this question out of pure curiosity. Maybe some writer created/used a term that wasn't actually recognised, but as a neologism. Or maybe is there a culture-related or religion-related word that could match. Jul 14, 2014 at 14:46

Dark of night. It's a bit more poetic than daylight, but it's at least an established phrase, unlike "night darkness" or similar. Furthermore, it can refer both to the darkness that comes at nighttime, as well as figuratively refer to the time when it is dark because of night. Hence it fits the requirements of an antonym "daylight," while referring to night and darkness.

If you wish to be less poetic, you could also use darkness of night. As in, "He fled under the darkness of night." The opposite would be "She approached in broad daylight." If you want the poetic version, it's "He fled in the dark of night."

For other uses, like daylight as an adjective, you just again have to move the words around. "Daylight" hours becomes "the dark hours of night." Other times you need to use "in"; daylight meal becomes "meal in the dark of night." The phrases that don't work do so because they just make no sense dealing with darkness and night. Or because they don't really work with "daylight" either (such as using it as a verb).

The point, again, is that it is an antonym that fits the requirement set out by the OP. It uses both dark and night, and is fairly common.

  • I did fail to notice that my original edit did go through, and I've added more to make my case that this works. I don't think you can argue that it is not a better choice than "nightdark." There's no need use a neologism that sounds awkward when an existing phrase will do.
    – trlkly
    Jan 6, 2015 at 19:30

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