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I'm interested in finding out two things:

  1. Why is sensical not a valid antonym for nonsensical?
  2. Is there an antonym of nonsensical that can be used instead? I haven't found any in dictionary searches.
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    None of the suggestions have quite the 'silly tone', if you will, that I enjoy in nonsensical and sensical; however, I've gone with meaningful as the best alternate. – matadur Aug 22 '11 at 17:17
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  1. You might get some insight from this...I am suggesting that "nonsensical" is an unpaired word like "unwittingly".
  2. Possible antonyms:
    • sensible
    • coherent
    • logical
    • intelligible
    • meaningful
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    How is "unwittingly" an "unpaired word"? – Hot Licks Apr 20 '15 at 22:31
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    You're right, @HotLicks, I guess I should have looked up "wittingly" before I said that. – JeffSahol Apr 21 '15 at 14:10
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"Sensical" is in fact a valid antonym for nonsense. It is a word, and you can use it. It is in the Oxford English Dictionary. It's use is traced back to 1797. It is equated to "sensible." My version is the 23rd US Printing, 1984 the Micrograph edition. You may find the word on page 2,728.

  • I don't know to what extent it's "valid", all the main official dictionaries I've checked don't list "sensical" except one. The exception is Oxford Living Dictionaries which lists it as "rare". The OED is a historical dictionary, so it probably won't give you an idea of today's contemporary acceptability. The word "kempt" is listed in most mainstream official dictionaries. So they they give word status to "kempt", but sensical overwhelmingly not. I'm not saying it's invalid, but it may be worth mentioning "sensical" isn't listed in the overwhelming majority of authoritative dictionaries. – Zebrafish Sep 11 '18 at 22:28
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Sensical has not yet become an "official" word in the English language, which would be why you can't use it. Nonsense is a word, therefore nonsensical can used to describe something of nonsense. However, sense has different meanings and doesn't have an adjective for something of sense. English language speakers generally do not use sense as an antonym of nonsense. Possible antonyms of nonsensical include logical, rational, or reasonable.

  • 3
    I think you'll find we do use sense as the antonym of nonsense. – Matt E. Эллен Aug 20 '11 at 8:41
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    I suppose that could be a cultural preference. In America, we say something makes sense, but not that it is sense. However we do say something is nonsense. – Xandria Aug 20 '11 at 19:47
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In fields like logic, philosophy, or linguistics, where you want word pairings like sense/nonsense to be very precise, the term 'sensical' actually is in use, because 'sensible' is already used to mean 'pertaining to the senses' and having such ambiguity isn't really permissible in such context. Thus in ordinary writing, or writing in other fields, it probably ought to be avoided because it strikes one as awkward, but there are certainly circumstances in which its use is necessary, the dictionary be damned.

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Depending on the context, meaningful, rational, sensible, relevant, pertinent, judicious, could be acceptable antonyms of "nonsensical".

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I've always considered nonsensical differs from nonsense in that the former is ordinarily applied to things which are either expected to make sense, or which superficially appear to but in fact don't. Whereas we don't necessarilly expect much from plain old nonsense.

So I suggest cogent (clear, logical, convincing) is a good antonym in many contexts.

  • That's the definition I was looking for - something that appears to and does make sense. Cogent is a fitting antonym, but meaningful fit my sentence better. Thanks! – matadur Aug 22 '11 at 17:13
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    @matadur: If you had a specific sentence in mind where you wanted a word to "fit", you should have put that in the question. Without proper context, we will all struggle to find the most suitable word, and future visitors will be less likely to find either the question or answers useful. – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '11 at 17:28
  • @Keyl posted this as another answer, but I believe it was meant as a comment to this answer so I'm reposting it here: I agree with this explanation best. I also think in some contexts (but here context has not been at all provided) "sound" could be used as well, particularly if words such as "cogent" ring a bit too academic. – 3D1T0R Sep 11 '18 at 21:12
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[...] nonsensical differs from nonsense in that the former is ordinarily applied to things which are either expected to make sense or which superficially appear to but in fact don't. Whereas we don't necessarily expect much from plain old nonsense.
—FumbleFingers' answer

I agree with this explanation best.

I also think in some contexts (but here context has not been at all provided) sound could be used as well, particularly if words such as cogent ring a bit too academic.

  • I believe this should have been posted as a comment on FumbleFingers' answer. @Keyl: With a bit more rep, you will be able to post comments. For the moment I've added the comment for you, and I'm flagging this post for deletion. – 3D1T0R Sep 11 '18 at 21:12
  • @Keyl: If you believe your answer should remain as an answer, you should probably rewrite it so that it stands alone as its own complete answer, which will make it easier for other visitors to read & understand. [If you want to mention that you like the explanation of the difference between nonsense & nonsensical as posted by FumbleFingers, I recommend saying it more like that, and including a link to his answer so people can easily find the source as opposed to seeing a (seemingly) random partial quote at the beginning of your answer.] Also: Welcome to the English Language & Usage Stack Exchange. – 3D1T0R Sep 11 '18 at 21:24
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    I've tried to clarify with a bit of copyediting that there is a new answer here, not just a comment. – MetaEd Sep 11 '18 at 21:42
  • Hello and thanks. I'm new to this forum so still need to learn how it works. Please feel free to move my answer wherever you think fits best. – Keyl Jul 2 at 12:28

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