I found the term "anti-example" when googling for a word that means "example of what not to do" but I've never heard of it being used in common usage and googling it doesn't seem to lead to any dictionary entries. A "bad example" seems me to mean "an example that's not very representative of the subject matter" rather than "an example that conveys the exact opposite meaning".

Is there a commonly used word that most people would agree means "example of what not to do"?

  • A no-no can be used informally for something to be avoided. A counterexample is an example showing that a hypothesis isn't a rigid law. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '15 at 22:21
  • 2
    Do you mean "an example not to follow" ? – Graffito Aug 11 '15 at 22:27
  • Yes, I think "an example not to follow" would be equivalent – user2108462 Aug 11 '15 at 23:12

An example of what not to do is called "a bad example" or a "cautionary tale." Lecturers on morality and other scolds worry that the bad example will not teach the object lesson of what not to do, but rather will encourage imitation. From one such scold, William Dodd, in his 1792 Sermons to Young Men

[I]t is unquestionable that] ... that bad company and bad example will for the most part be sufficient to corrupt.


A rare but appropriate term is nonexemplar, as an antonym to "exemplar" (in the sense of 'an example to be followed'). The related word nonexample is sometimes used in the same way, but can also be used like "counterexample" as 'an example outside the rule'.



Deer crossing signs are not a discouragement to deer crossing the road.

More examples

The smell of that food is a discouragement to eat it.

Wearing hats is a discouragement in the court.

It is more affluent, however, to use it as a verb.

Large piles of cow dung discourage me from walking through that field.

  • How is "[using 'discourage'] as a verb" related to having lots of money? – Lawrence Jun 22 at 14:55

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