Considering the use of 'desirable' in a romantic sense to mean 'attractive' as in

"She looks so desirable in that golden dress!"

is 'undesirable' appropriate to be used as antonym?

She found him undesirable.


undesirable ADJECTIVE

Not wanted or desirable because harmful, objectionable, or unpleasant. ‘the drug's undesirable side effects’

Although the above dictionary does list 'unpleasant' as a meaning, I wonder whether 'undesirable' is (not) a good choice of word to mean 'unattractive' or 'not desirable' in the romantic sense?

Edit: Based on the first answer,'undesirable' seems to be an example of a type of word that is constructed by adding a negative prefix to another word, but no longer serves as its most common antonym (Un + desirable = undesirable, but the most common antonym of desirable is now apparently 'unattractive') -- can members quote a few other examples?

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    I think it’s fine. see: books.google.com/… – Jim Apr 30 '17 at 19:56
  • Or here: books.google.com/… – Jim Apr 30 '17 at 19:56
  • I would be careful with "undesirable." An undesirable person is usually someone you don't want to be around, so in that sense it is an antonym, but if you just mean "someone who I don't desire," it's probably too strong, and I would stick with eup's advice and use "unattractive." That would imply no romantic attraction, but not necessarily an active dislike of the person. – RaceYouAnytime Apr 30 '17 at 19:57
  • Thank you @Jim for posting some good examples where 'undesirable' is used in the sense of 'unattractive.' Is it true that the 'more common' meaning of undesirable as 'troublesome' inhibits its use in the 'unattractive ' sense to avoid being misinterpreted? – English Student Apr 30 '17 at 21:18
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    Maybe we need to define romantic. It is not the same as erotic, which to me is the type of thing that calling someone desirable belongs to. – Arm the good guys in America Apr 30 '17 at 21:49

'Unattractive' would be more often used than 'undesirable' if you are talking about a person. 'Undesirable' is more often used to describe an outcome or situation or result.

If you were to go so far as to say 'undesirable' about a person in a romantic sense, it would be better to add to it:

  • Totally undesirable
  • Completely undesirable
  • Utterly undesirable, and so on.
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  • See the quotes in comments above. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as this. – Jim Apr 30 '17 at 19:57
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    I would distinguish between She found him unattractive and She did not find him attractive. The former conveys something different from and stronger than the latter. – Richard Kayser Apr 30 '17 at 20:07
  • @RichardKayser yes indeed it does -- just as 'unattractive' is different from 'not attractive' it seems 'undesirable' (as in, she found him undesirable) is very different from 'not + desirable' (as in, she did not find him desirable) it seems that 'not attractive' and 'not desirable' have 'neutral tone' in this context. – English Student Apr 30 '17 at 21:24
  • @EnglishStudent Exactly. I am fond of the difference between significant and not insignificant and similar distinctions. They're graded and useful. Two negatives often do not equal a positive. – Richard Kayser Apr 30 '17 at 21:42
  • @Richard Kayser Even without using devices like adverbs or modifiers for emphasis or mitigation, there seems to be a natural 'scale of continuum' from negative through neutral to positive as in unattractive--not unattractive--not attractive--attractive. Such options are given in questionnaires, etc used for collecting user feedback, and for studies in the social sciences. I agree with you that proper use of such terms even in general English helps us to precisely express what we mean, without creating scope for ambiguity and misinterpretation. – English Student Apr 30 '17 at 22:05

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