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In rock-climbing, we describe an incline as "steep" (which is anything from 90 degrees to overhanging) but we don't have a good word to mean "not steep". At least I've never heard anyone use one; instead people use convoluted phrases like "not too steep".

I looked at the “opposite for 'steep learning curve'” post, but none of those suggestions really seems to fit here.

Edit: I asked a rock-climbing English major and she said that "low-angle" and "slabby" were most often used for cliffs in the 50-90 degree range.

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  • Downhill isn't what you're looking for, is it? ;) Apr 15, 2011 at 4:50
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    You can still have a steep downhill though @muntoo
    – Nobody
    Apr 15, 2011 at 11:49
  • Anything more than about 45 degrees would be steep enough for a pedestrian to navigate. Many answers seem to be in regards to amounts less than maybe 30 degrees. But in your example, an incline on the order of 75 degrees would not be steep?
    – Octopus
    Jul 20, 2015 at 19:49
  • Steep is a quantifying adjective and therefore has no "opposite". Don't certain climbs have difficultly numbers for exactly this purpose: to quantify the steepness of the slope? I'd suggest a low rise, but that's something you can walk up.
    – Mazura
    Jun 13, 2016 at 22:40

9 Answers 9

42

I'd say shallow or gentle are suitable...

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    I wouldn't -1 this but, to me, "shallow" implies a negative incline (i.e., that I am observing the incline from the higher end, though I can't articulate a concrete reason). I say a "shallow bowl" for example, because I observe the bowl from outside the high edge (or, perhaps, because it's concave).
    – msanford
    Apr 14, 2011 at 23:31
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    I think "gentle" always works (gentle incline, gentle decline, gentle slope, gentle ascent, gentle descent), but "shallow" only really works for descents (shallow decline, shallow descent) due to the concave connotations that msanford pointed out.
    – ncoghlan
    Apr 15, 2011 at 2:30
  • While I agree it might fit, I don't like shallow as an opposite of steep!
    – Trufa
    Apr 15, 2011 at 6:20
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    Neither shallow nor gentle are the opposite of steep, but rather words we make do with because there is no actual word for what we mean; when asked the opposite of gentle or shallow we wouldn't naturally say steep, but harsh or deep respectively. Is there a general name for the situation where words 'should' exist but don't, and we have to make do with others? Jun 10, 2014 at 19:29
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    Shallow is the opposite of deep. Feb 22, 2016 at 4:53
17

Perhaps one of these?

  • Flat
  • Gentle

If a noun works for your usage, you could go with glacis which means "gentle slope"

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    Thesaurus says "gentle" as well (about cliffs), so I think you got it. About "a steep increase", so something in general, it says "gradual", just saying.
    – Alenanno
    Apr 14, 2011 at 21:11
  • +1 Indeed, I say "a steep mountain face" and "a gentle hill".
    – msanford
    Apr 14, 2011 at 23:29
  • In french (especially for bicycle riders) we have this phrase: "un faux plat" meaning "a treacherously not so horizontal road section".
    – ogerard
    Apr 15, 2011 at 4:51
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I would suggest you can call it "a gradual incline."

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    To me that means a change in incline. Apr 15, 2011 at 8:34
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In the context of inclines, I suggest that 'slight' is most commonly used as the opposite of steep.

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Steep is also used in reference to learning curves or ramp-ups that are difficult. In that context, or in the context of a hill or a rock to climb, some of the opposites suggested so far (gentle, gradual) make sense, as do simple, easy or comfortable.

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As a climber, caver, and geoscientist, the lack of a commonly-used antonym for "steep" is a constant frustration! No appropriate word exists and frankly it's a big gaping hole in the English language.

In geoscience, we use "low-angle" to refer to an outcrop or formation that is not steeply dipping (read about strike and dip for more on this). There is an entire field of study devoted to the mysterious mechanics of low-angle normal faults. You do hear people saying "gradual" as well but then people often think you're referring to a change in slope.

I've begun (mis)using "positive" for the climbing application, and people know what I mean. In climbing, a "positive hold" is one with a slope that makes it useful. (As in "yeah man those bomber huecos are super positive") By analogy, I like to say that a cliff that slopes forwards as it goes up (what the OP referred to as less than 90 degrees) is a "positive" wall whereas an overhanging wall feels "negative." In climbing we often use "steep" to mean overhanging, or extremely overhanging. So, I've been using "steep" versus "positive" to refer to the angle of the wall when climbing and people seem to know what I mean.

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  • Why the downvote? Jun 13, 2016 at 20:21
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In the context indicated (hills), I find that the opposite of steep is most clearly expressed in the form of two-word phrase using one of the words already mentioned in previous answers, plus the word sloping, such as gently sloping, or gradually sloping.

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Although gentle works, it usually connotes a descent. A great choice for this, especially as it relates to climbing (ascent), is easy.

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I would just use the word declining, descent or maybe recession.

The hill is declining. We began our descent.

or

We shall now begin our trek on the declining hill.

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    The poster was not asking for the opposite of incline, but rather the opposite of steeply sloping, regardless of direction.
    – Adam Smith
    Apr 15, 2011 at 3:02

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