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For some verbs we can find another (not necessarily unique) verb which has the same meaning except that it corresponds the subject and the object in the opposite direction. For example, if I say “our group comprises 10 people”, the same can be expressed by saying that “10 people constitute our group”.

How do linguists refer to such pairs of “opposite” verbs, and how do I find them (except maybe by searching for dictionary definitions that begin with “to be”)?

  • Can you give one or two more examples of such 'inverted synonyms'? It is unlikely that there will be a specific term for a group of words that comprise only a very small number of members. There is, however, a quite a large group of verbs which license an inversion (or interchange) so that the object becomes the subject (and the original subject is omitted). For example: She is cooking the pasta >> The pasta is cooking - They began the game >> The game began. These are called 'ergative verbs' thoughtco.com/ergative-grammar-term-1690608). – Shoe May 15 '18 at 7:10
  • @Shoe Comprise can be regarded as such an "ergative verb". OED sense 8 of comprise provides examples, the equivalent of "10 people comprise our group". 1969 W. Hooper in C. S. Lewis Sel. Lit. Ess. p. xix These essays together with those contained in this volume comprise the total of C. S. Lewis's essays on literature. 1969 N. Perrin Dr. Bowdler's Legacy (1970) i. 20 As to who comprised this new reading public, Jeffrey..guessed in 1812 that there were 20,000 upper-class readers in Great Britain. – WS2 May 15 '18 at 7:13
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    Consider 1) “He fears nothing.” vs. “Nothing scares him.”, 2) “People ride horses.” vs. “Horses carry people.”, 3) “He orders the whole troop.” vs. “The whole troop obeys him.”, 4) “Everyone in the lab contracted the virus.” vs. “The virus infected everyone in the lab.”, or 5) “The family caught a mysterious disease.” vs. “A mysterious diease hit the family.” @Shoe – ȷ̇c May 15 '18 at 8:36
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    Gee, I didn’t know these were actually antonyms. A bit of googling led me to “relational antonyms” which are defined as “pairs of words that refer to a relationship from opposite points of view”. I guess the verb pairs I gave (including (comprise, constitute)) could be considered a special case thereof, no? – ȷ̇c May 15 '18 at 11:02
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    I don't think that comprise and constitute can be considered relational antonyms. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of any sensible antonym of comprise (maybe exclude). Comprise is an odd word in that you will find it in both whole/parts and parts/whole constructions_: The team comprises seven players and Seven players comprise the team. – Shoe May 16 '18 at 7:29

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