I'm interested in finding out two things:
- Why is sensical not a valid antonym for nonsensical?
- Is there an antonym of nonsensical that can be used instead? I haven't found any in dictionary searches.
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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.
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.
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.
Depending on the context, meaningful, rational, sensible, relevant, pertinent, judicious, could be acceptable antonyms of "nonsensical".
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.
[...] 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.
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.