I feel like there is no perfect word to describe the opposite of "dense." Density as in mass divided by volume.

All I can think of are words like "light," "fluffy," or "sparse" that aren't exactly what I am trying to say when describing something that has a large volume, but not a lot of mass.

Of all the bowling balls he preferred the [not dense] ones because throwing them down the alley fast made him feel cool.

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    Sometimes the opposite of a word is 'not + word'. If Light and fluffy didn't work, I would probably just use 'not dense'. – Spagirl Jul 18 '16 at 13:08
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    It's totally context dependent. "Light" will work in the context of baking, while "diffuse" will work in the context of gasses, for example. Wat is your context? – Max Williams Jul 18 '16 at 13:21
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    @tkendrick20 "he preferred the lighter ones" – NVZ Jul 18 '16 at 13:38
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    Itl’s a given that bowling balls are all the same size, so as @NVZ says, lighter is the word. Note that bowling balls are measured by weight: In the US: typically 8-16 lbs. – Jim Jul 18 '16 at 13:48
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    @tkendrick20: Only a geek would categorize bowling balls by density, and even then the descriptor for a lighter ball would just be less dense anyway. Your specific context is thus not very appropriate, but for the more general case diffuse is probably the most relevant term. There will be context-specific alternatives, but in comparisons like Aluminium is X than lead (where both alternatives are solid) you should probably always just switch from density to weight. – FumbleFingers Jul 18 '16 at 14:01

A historical word to mean the opposite of dense was rare, as stated in the following taken from an article in DON'T LOOK NOW IT'S DEVAN GOLDSTEIN:

Once upon a time, though, dense had an opposite. Until the mid-19th century, the word was rare.

In fact, the earliest meaning of rare in English was precisely this one. The OED notes the word’s meaning as “[o]pposed to dense,” and provides the following example (from around 1420), among others: The londis fatte, or lene, or thicke, or rare.

Also, a check of current dictionary definitions gives us this one from Merriam-Webster:

rare: marked by wide separation of component particles; thin (e.g. rare air)

So, rare does seem to be used for "objects of low(er) density" in the physics sense of the word. This is because typically when we think of "dense" we think of "heavy", but in the pure physical world this in not the case as weight is subjective, while (as you mentioned) mass and volume are not.

Now the caveat to all this, is that the usage of word this way in now rare itself (pun intended). It quite possible that you will get a odd look or be misunderstood if you ask for a "rare bowling ball".

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    I didn't downvote, because of course this is a valid, useful answer explaining that the word rare is archaic in this sense. But people tend to view voting as a popularity contest in which the standings need adjustment. The downvotes are likely no more than people trying to make lighter appear more valid. All the more so because your answer got the checkmark. – stevesliva Jul 19 '16 at 2:03
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    I didn't downvote, I offered an alternative answer instead. But those who did downvote may not have agreed that "rare" is an appropriate description of a lighter bowling ball, or they may have felt that an archaic use of the word is not a useful contemporary antonym for "dense". But in the end it's a poorly worded question, which is why it's been put on hold - we may both have wasted our time! – Reinstate Monica Jul 19 '16 at 7:05

"Of all the bowling balls, he preferred the lighter ones because throwing them down the alley fast made him feel cool."


adj. 1.a. having little weight; not heavy

  • I'm assuming all the balls available there are of same size. – NVZ Jul 18 '16 at 14:38
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    They have to be 1. Because of regulations and fairness. 2. because the ball handling/return system requires it. – Jim Jul 18 '16 at 20:36

Bowling ball terminology says POROSITY


And throw a ball is most likely a NO NO. I believe the term is to HOOK a ball....

You might want to look into dynamic in this text, too: https://bowler2bowler.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/bowling-ball-terminology-maintenance-by-james-goulding-iii/

  • This one is close, but other substances that are not dense can also be nonporous. – tkendrick20 Jul 18 '16 at 13:45
  • It's not about all substances, though, is it? It's about a bowling ball. Heavy substance, light substance; dense substance, porous substance. Hook that down the lane.... – Lambie Jul 18 '16 at 14:58

This question asks for a word "describing something that has a large volume, but not a lot of mass" - yet gives an example of two small dense objects (bowling balls) with relatively modest variation in weight. This might be making it harder to see what an appropriate antonym of "dense" might be. Some different examples might be useful…

Compare the air at sea level with the air at the top of Everest: the latter, being less dense, is rarified.

Compare a party balloon filled with water and a party balloon filled with helium: water is denser than helium, so the helium balloon is light.

Note that density (mass per unit volume) is not the same as weight or heaviness: in an inertial environment (e.g. Space Station), both granite and pumice are weightless, so the term "light" is really just our layperson's way of comparing the mass of different objects.

Compare a piece of granite with a piece of pumice: apart from being "light", the latter is porous.

Compare the Moon with a white dwarf star (both are about the same size, but the white dwarf has roughly the same mass as the Sun): the Moon is less massive.


Diffuse - adj. -

  1. widely spread or scattered; dispersed;

  2. Physics. characterized by or exhibiting diffusion.


Other than 'sparse', I would suggest:

  • dispersed: spread apart, distributed or spread over a wide area,
  • scarce: very small in amount or number, not plentiful,
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    While these words may be antonyms of dense in some senses, they are not antonyms of dense in the sense given by the asker. – Wrzlprmft Jul 18 '16 at 13:31

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