I'm trying to come up with a way to express the opposite of "mutually beneficial" in a way that is just as efficient. The idea I'm trying to concisely express is that a deal, agreement, contract etc. benefits only one party instead of both.

  • something as simple as unfair? Sep 15 '16 at 15:39
  • How about only in your interest? Sep 15 '16 at 16:07
  • 2
    Which do you want “the opposite” of: mutually or beneficial or of both?
    – tchrist
    Sep 15 '16 at 16:44
  • Both. The opposite of the idea expressed in "mutually beneficial." One sided seems best. Because I'm looking for an expression which is pejorative, and I think one-sided would normally be taken as pejorative. Sep 16 '16 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Zan700 Or unilaterally detrimental. Feb 18 '18 at 0:20

One might say the deal was asymmetric or one-sided.


having two sides or halves that are not the same

In either case it seems clear that one party is getting the better end of things.

  • 2
    One-sided is the idiomatic choice. Sep 15 '16 at 15:30
  • I think one-sided is technically opposite of "mutually beneficial". I was hoping to find an expression which is just as poetic sounding, I guess. Sep 16 '16 at 14:37

Unconscionable is a legal term to describe just such a contract or deal.

In contract law an unconscionable contract is one that is unjust or extremely one-sided in favor of the person who has the superior bargaining power. An unconscionable contract is one that no person who is mentally competent would enter into and that no fair and honest person would accept. Courts find that unconscionable contracts usually result from the exploitation of consumers who are often poorly educated, impoverished, and unable to find the best price available in the competitive marketplace.

Contractual provisions that indicate gross one-sidedness in favor of the seller include provisions that limit damages against the seller, limit the rights of the purchaser to seek court relief against the seller, or disclaim a Warranty. State and federal Consumer Protection and Consumer Credit laws were enacted to prevent many of these unconscionable contract provisions from being included in sales contracts.

(Legal Dictionary - The Free Dictionary)

  • As the quoted language makes clear, unconscionable is a term for gross, extreme one-sidedness; the question asked for a term that covers all one-sided transactions.
    – jsw29
    Feb 21 '18 at 7:21

A one-sided arrangement can create a relationship that is commensal if it does not harm or benefit the other party, or parasitic ,if it does. "Commensal" would be unlikely to be understood outside of specific academia.


I believe the word you are looking for is 'zero-sum'. The notion of zero-sum has its roots in game theory, but the concept of a "winner-take-all" outcome to an interaction between entities can be found all over nature. For example, when an ecosystem has reached its carrying capacity, the survival of a group/individual comes at the perdition of another group/individual.

If you wish to explore more abstract, universal manifestations of zero-sum circumstance, see also Conservation Law.

  • When I saw this question, “zero-sum (game)” was the first thing that popped into my mind. (And then I saw that you were giving it as an answer.) It might not be a perfect fit for the question (“benefits only one party instead of both” — but not “benefits only one party and hurts the other”), but it’s sufficiently relevant that I’m astonished that nobody else has submitted it in a year and a half. The pretentious police will like this post better if you add a link to something that discusses zero-sum situations.
    – Scott
    Feb 17 '18 at 20:46
  • I will remember to add links in the future. Thanks Scott! Feb 17 '18 at 20:48
  • You can do it now — click on the edit link (either this one, in my comment, or the one under your answer).
    – Scott
    Feb 17 '18 at 20:52
  • (1) You got the links backwards (1 ↔ 2).   (2) It’s not entirely obvious to me how well “Exclusive Or Logic” relates to the question.  In a true XOR situation, one of two values must be true.  In the context of the question, it just so happens that the deal benefits only one party instead of both, but it’s not a structural constraint of the environment.  And your ecosystem example is really more of a NAND situation: it might be impossible for both to survive, but possible for both to fail.  If you can justify your reference to “Exclusive Or Logic”, please edit your answer to make it clearer.
    – Scott
    Feb 18 '18 at 20:03
  • If one party to a transaction gains an amount that is different from the amount of the other's losses, the transaction is not mutually beneficial (and should thus be covered by the term that the OP was looking for), but it is not a zero-sum ‘game’.
    – jsw29
    Feb 21 '18 at 16:48

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