Suppose an idea or an artistic work A is derived from another idea or work B. We would call A the "derivative" or the "derived". What would we call B?

I looked for antonyms of derived on thesaurus.com * and couldn't find any.

* - although I'm really looking more for the converse of derivative rather than the opposite of it.

  • 3
    I agree, I think a clarification of "derivative" would help in this case. Particularly because there's also a legal definition of derivative work. May 22, 2018 at 15:56
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    You could go with integral </joke>
    – mbomb007
    May 22, 2018 at 16:56
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    @mbomb007 that sure seems like the antiderivative..
    – JJJ
    May 22, 2018 at 17:51
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    I think what you meant was "corollary" or "partner" and not "antonym". An antonym of "derivative" is "unique" or "fresh". May 22, 2018 at 20:43
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    Am I the only one who finds it odd that the OP uses A (the derivative) before B (the original)
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24, 2018 at 8:56

13 Answers 13


Consider underlying

In copyright law, a derivative work is an expressive creation that includes major copyright-protected elements of an original, previously created first work (the underlying work). The derivative work becomes a second, separate work independent in form from the first.

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work

  • This is about art, not copyright laws....
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2018 at 15:06
  • @Lambie I understand that. Just because the quote references copyright law, doesn't mean it's not applicable to art in general. I tried to provide an alternative to "original", which OP didn't like. If you can think of a more suitable word, please let us know.
    – 0xFEE1DEAD
    May 22, 2018 at 15:15
  • Well, presumably, we are dealing with two separate people...underlying makes me think of palimpsests. However,if there is only one.....maybe. :)
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2018 at 15:19

I think the term you're looking for is original (not the adjective, but the noun):

“Original” quite simply means a unique one-off piece or small edition hand-pulled print from the artists own hand i.e an oil, acrylic, watercolor painting, etching or a drawing (i.e. not a machine driven process like a giclee).

Additional definition:

When an artist creates a unique artwork, that is an original. That original may be a painting of some kind, or a sculpture, or a performance work, or one of many other kinds of media.


Is that an original Picasso? That must be worth millions.

Possible response to demonstrate the contrast between the two terms:

No, it's merely a derivative. You can tell by the careless brushstrokes here.

Note that the terms derived (or, alternatively, derivative) and original (work) are also used in the legal context of copyright:

Most countries' legal systems seek to protect both original and derivative works. They grant authors the right to impede or otherwise control their integrity and the author's commercial interests. Derivative works and their authors benefit in turn from the full protection of copyright without prejudicing the rights of the original work's author.

  • 1
    So, this is not so bad, but it doesn't imply the existence of the derived work. It could imply there are copies, or forgeries; while if say "A is a derivative piece" it's obviously what has happened.
    – einpoklum
    May 22, 2018 at 12:43
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    @einpoklum Hmm, not sure what you mean. Could you clarify? May 22, 2018 at 13:14
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    @Lambie - einpoklum IS the OP... Also, your statement does not follow. A could have multiple parent works; a mashup for example. In that case you can still say that B derives from A, but not that A is the original B.
    – ZachP
    May 22, 2018 at 15:28
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    I don't think the word we're looking for has to necessarily imply the existence of a derived work. This article on derivative work has an interesting paragraph using both terms in contrast: "Most countries' legal systems seek to protect both original and derivative works.[1] They grant authors the right to impede or otherwise control their integrity and the author's commercial interests. Derivative works and their authors benefit in turn from the full protection of copyright without prejudicing the rights of the original work's author." May 22, 2018 at 15:58
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    Of course, that's specifically about the legal definition of "derivative work", so a clearer definition would probably help. May 22, 2018 at 15:59

The derivative is derived from a source.


[1] Something which is based on another source.

‘He related the ornament, as we do today to the art of such insular manuscripts as the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow; indeed, he saw Pictish art as derivative from these sources.’

[1] A place, person, or thing from which something originates or can be obtained.

‘mackerel is a good source of fish oil’

  • 1
    Yes, if indeed the OP meant derived.
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2018 at 15:05

Inspiration, A is inspired by B, or B was an inspiration for A. According to Cambridge Dictionary:

someone or something that gives you ideas for doing something

Attribution: definition of “inspiration” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press

  • 4
    Your inspirations as an author are much wider than a work you're deriving from. Tolkien was inspired by Nordic mythology, but you can't say the Lord of the Rings is a derivative work of any Norse mythological text.
    – einpoklum
    May 22, 2018 at 11:13
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    @einpoklum You cannot dismiss this answer with just an example, unless you provided more details about what you mean by "derived" in your question. You definitely can use "inspiration" to mean (one of) the source of another work of art. It heavily depends on the context. You used A and B in your question, but without knowing exactly (or more precisely) what A and B are, this is a good answer. May 24, 2018 at 7:41
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    @einpoklum For example, take the original film about count Dracula with Bela Lugosi: it can be said (I'm not arguing whether that's true or not, beware, but only that it can be linguistically correct) that the more recent film "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was inspired by the first, so the first can be the inspiration for the second. May 24, 2018 at 7:42
  • @LorenzoDonati: I haven't dismissed it, I've just made a comment.
    – einpoklum
    May 24, 2018 at 19:42


The literal opposite to a derivative is an integral in math and the same is true in the English language.

The OED defines "derived" as:

Drawn, obtained, descended, or deduced from a source.

While "integrated" is:

Combined into a whole; united; undivided.

I don't think it's the word you're looking for, as it's not a name for B in your example, but it's worth noting that this would be the antonym of derived/derivative.


I'd go with progenitor:

a : an ancestor in the direct line : forefather

b : a biologically ancestral form


His work was thought to be the progenitor of all modern works of art.

  • Don't you use that only for people/active agents?
    – einpoklum
    May 22, 2018 at 12:54
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    By strict definition I believe the word is strictly biological but I also believe the feel of the word carries enough implication to get the point across. By that same interpretation, I'd argue that the work itself could be an active agent in encouraging others to derive, i.e. an inspirational work.
    – ZachP
    May 22, 2018 at 13:01
  • Works of art do not have progenitors, except metaphorically, and then it would mean the original artist who created it.
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2018 at 15:04
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    @Lambie - see my comment directly above.
    – ZachP
    May 22, 2018 at 15:21
  • There can be no progeny if there's no progenitor. +1
    – Mazura
    May 22, 2018 at 19:41

Depending on the context, you could also use genesis:

the origin or coming into being of something


Aasimov's "I, Robot" was the genesis for modern AI sci-fi

Although, this also carries a bit of connotation of continued works meaning it is probably less appropriate when only A and B exist, but would work great when A begat B begat C begat D and etc.


Seminal (MWD)

containing or contributing the seeds of later development

Seed (MWD)

a source of development or growth

  • 4
    The makings of a good answer but desperately needs a link to a reference. Up-voted pending an edit and sorting out a noun rather than an adjective.
    – Nigel J
    May 22, 2018 at 13:33
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    seminal is an adjective. You don't say this work derives from that seminal.
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2018 at 15:05

Perhaps we should go back to the meaning of derivation, or its derivation (Romance de-ripare or de-rivare, ultimately Latin de + rivus, "going down the river").

Asking for an antonym is asking: "where does the object come from"? From all these answers, it is obvious that there could be as many legimate antonyms for "derived" or "derivative" as there are different possible starting points in a derivation processes (origin, underlying, original, template, mould, integral, etc.).

If we want a general, blanket concept, we might have to look in the direction... of upstream (up + stream):

Being or moving closer to the source of a stream; in the direction opposite to that of the current: upstream traffic; an upstream dam (American Heritage)

It could be the upstream, to coin a term.

Note that if we go all the way back to the origin point of a stream, the fountainhead is the source (in an etymological sense, from Latin surgere "to spring").

The source point (for the stream) or the starting point ("a place to start", Merriam-Webster) might also answer the question, though not as expressive as all the specialized alternatives already proposed. Yet the a source point might no be general enough: an object might be derived from several others. In which case you might have to deal with components, elements, atoms, raw materials etc. At which point we might get into mathematical or technical jargon, probably too abstract for daily conversation (a source set)?

  • So: "B is the upstream of A"? Hmm, not bad. I think I'll take it.
    – einpoklum
    May 23, 2018 at 9:27
  • To be fair, I don't think you'd hear anyone say, "X piece of art is the upstream of all these derived works." Of course, if you'd like to use that, it's entirely up to you. Nothing wrong with coining a new term/usage, as long as your readers understand what you meant. May 23, 2018 at 10:59
  • To be fair, I haven't either. But if that suits the need in the particular case (especially if it is a technical usage), it might be good enough.
    – fralau
    May 23, 2018 at 14:31

The inspiration; The original piece which emerged by it's predecessor's vision.

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    – MetaEd
    May 24, 2018 at 15:19

parent (ODOL)

1.3 A source or origin of a smaller or less important part. as modifier ‘some of the whetstones have been transported up to 400 km from the parent rock’

1.2 An animal or plant from which new ones are derived. ‘stems will root down, creating a new crown near the parent’

cf. parent class vs. derived class


On could never guess at the meaning of that word because it is underived from any known language from which the English language is related. That seems to be the simplest way to express that thought with just one word.

  • What "one word"?
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 24, 2018 at 8:58

The OP states in a comment to one of the answers that the answer should imply the existence of one or more pieces of derivative work.

One idiom that necessarily implies the existence of derivatives or knockoffs is "the real McCoy:"

"The real McCoy" is an idiom and metaphor used in much of the English-speaking world to mean "the real thing" or "the genuine article", e.g. "he's the real McCoy".

The above definition shows that there are other ways of saying this, such as "the genuine article".

(EDIT) I missed the tag "single-word-requests" until I went back and looked so let me know if I need to get rid of this answer.

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