17

I suspect this is going to be a "oh yeah, duh" moment, but I'm looking for a word that is like "negate," but worse. Here's an example sentence:

I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could negate the effort.

I believe this sentence means, "cramming for the test could be canceled out by the sleep deprivation." But what I really want to say is, "the negatives of sleep deprivation could be worse than the benefits of cramming.

Is there a word with the latter meaning that could be swapped out for negate in the example sentence?

EDIT: I probably wasn't clear because a lot of the answers are giving me stronger words with the same meaning of "negate." But I'm looking for a word with a different, yet related, meaning.

May be tagging it with synonyms because the confusion. But whenever I look up synonyms in a thesaurus, the list includes words with closely related meanings, too.

Negate, nullify, void, etc. can be interpreted as bringing you back to zero. I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for a word that fits the first example and means net negative.

3
  • Good question! I'm not sure that there is a singular word or even idiom in English that means precisely as you intend. You could of course re-word the sentence to include something like "I could do X in an attempt to improve Z, but because of B that would simultaneously hinder more than improve Z.", where in your example X:=stay up all night studying, Z:=increase test score, B:=fact that said night directly precedes test, that:=X in this context (day before test).
    – 11qq00
    Oct 10 at 0:56
  • 1
    Simple, but: "undermine" ?
    – Karl
    Dec 3 at 13:40
  • @Karl yeah that's a good one, and I think I thought of that before asking the question, but, afaict, the word doesn't mean net negative. It could mean that, but it doesn't have to mean that. Dec 3 at 17:20

15 Answers 15

40

I think outweigh conveys the right meaning here

To be more significant than; exceed in value or importance

e.g. "The benefits outweigh the risks."

The sentence in the question would be

I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could outweigh the effort.

A synonym that also works here is "outbalance", but that's much less commonly used.

8
  • 2
    I think that "outbalance" most closely resembles the denotative meaning seeked, conveying a sense of dichotomy as opposed to multidimensionality (that doesn't really affect the net effect of relevance). +1, btw.
    – 11qq00
    Oct 10 at 1:00
  • 21
    As a native British English speaker, I would find the use of "outbalance" very odd in this sentence. Oct 10 at 10:32
  • 12
    As a native American English speaker, I would also find the use of "outbalance" very odd in this sentence.
    – Brian
    Oct 11 at 14:02
  • 1
    As a native American English speaker, I find "outweigh" odd (but acceptable in very informal contexts) here because you are not comparing similar referents. Can efforts to accomplish a goal be outweighed by sleep deprivation? No, but efforts in one direction can be outweighed by efforts in another. "Outweigh" is a comparison word, not related to cause and effect.
    – piojo
    Oct 11 at 14:12
  • 4
    FWIW, I accepted this answer because of "outweigh" not because of "outbalance." Oct 11 at 21:53
27

counteract verb act against (something) in order to reduce its force or neutralize it.

void verb nullify, annul

nullify verb to make of no value or consequence

backfire verb rebound adversely on the originator; have the opposite effect to what was intended.

4
  • "counteract" could be used, so long as the simultaneous (lesser in magnitude) anti-counteraction of the counteracting thing is conveyed. "void" and "nullify" don't convey the full meaning asked for.
    – 11qq00
    Oct 10 at 1:06
  • 1
    Maybe I'm not understanding the definitions, but to me, none of these work because they are synonymous with 'negate.' Using 'counteract' as an example, googling says the definition is, act against (something) in order to reduce its force or neutralize it. And the definition of neutralize is, render (something) ineffective or harmless by applying an opposite force or effect. Oct 11 at 21:56
  • @DanielKaplan counteract just means create an action in the opposite direction. The two trends can add up to a negative, or not, depending on how strong the counteracting trend is. But I'll add a word which means exclusively net-negative.
    – grovkin
    Oct 12 at 1:02
  • 1
    Nullify means to cancel out - "null" indicates that something has or is associated with the value zero. Nullification does not have a net negative effect, it results in a net neutral effect. Oct 12 at 13:58
18

Obliterate

From latin, litera, it means to erase, or strike out, something. It's popular use is more on the violent side, to destroy, to demolish.

I'd use it here, it fits both popular use and historical meaning.

1
  • 1
    I think this could work but it could also not work; one could argue that erasing something brings it back to it's natural state, i.e., zero. Oct 11 at 21:58
17

A very strong word that you might use is "annihilate."

Definition 2: to cause to be of no effect : nullify

Here are other definitions.

Selected synonyms: demolish, eradicate, extinguish, liquidate, vitiate, negate...

Now, this does not exactly have the sense that "the negatives of sleep deprivation could be worse than the benefits of cramming." But it seems to me you could use that phrase itself if that's what you mean. If you want to say that cramming has no benefit due to the loss of sleep, "annihilate" will get the listener's or reader's attention.

7

Either preclude or perhaps obviate the benefit would work here. Merriam-Webster defines preclude as:

to make impossible by necessary consequence : rule out in advance

and obviate as

to anticipate and prevent (something, such as a situation) or make (an action) unnecessary

Sleep deprivation wouldn’t preclude or obviate the cramming, because that comes first, and either means prevent something else from happening. But you might preclude or obviate any benefit from it.

ETA

Or, even closer to the original sense: if you undo or invalidate the point of an action you took, you vitiate it. (I see wastref mentioned this in passing.)

4
  • I find obviating benefit at best odd usage, perhaps even incorrect.. effort isn't made 'unnecessary'. (More may be required! But that's beside the point.) Even if arguably correct, I think it's worth saying it's usually used with a negative - i.e. the impact of the obviation is positive, the bad thing was avoided. Preclude doesn't have that problem ('preclude success') but it doesn't make sense to say that it 'precludes effort' - the effort already happened. 'The resulting sleep deprivation may preclude success despite the effort' works, for example.
    – OJFord
    Oct 11 at 14:43
  • @OJFord "obviate" was actually the word I was struggling to remember, but couldn't, when I wrote my answer. M-W's "Did you know?" section on "obviate" seems to agree with you though.
    – grovkin
    Oct 11 at 15:42
  • @OJFord I think they both work, but I agree it’s more common to obviate something undesirable, like “the need for cramming.”
    – Davislor
    Oct 11 at 18:43
  • “Obviate” would also be very appropriate if you were staying up as a form of self-sabotage.
    – Davislor
    Oct 11 at 21:26
4

I like invert here, but maybe subvert is even better.

: to overturn or overthrow from the foundation : ruin

4

I can't think of a single word, but the idiom "do more harm than good" might fit your meaning

0
2

OED:

vitiate, v.

1. a. transitive. To render incomplete, imperfect, or faulty; to impair or spoil.

1738 W. Warburton Divine Legation Moses I. 166 Time, which naturally and fatally viciates and depraves all things.

1794 J. Hutton Diss. Philos. Light 124 It would only lead us into error, and thus vitiate the science or philosophy in which it were employed.

1

The sleep deprivation could invert the benefits of cramming.

Rather than negate, which can be interpreted as being synonymous with nullify, perhaps you could choose invert. This captures the essence of flipping a positive to a negative, similar to 11qq00's observation of this being an example of an instance where the "one step forward, two steps back" analogy applies.

1

Maybe consider the word Invalidate. Sleep deprivation could also be considered counter-productive to your aim of getting good grades or just simply counter-intuitive.

1

Given the sample sentence:

I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could negate the effort.

I think either counteract, nullify, or cancel out would fit.

Perhaps even vitiate would work, too, although it may sound too formal for the casual-sounding conversation in the example.

1

If you're fine with using a few words in place of negate, I might suggest entirely cancel out.

I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could entirely cancel out the effort.

0

I agree with nullify. The word "eliminate" would also work. Negate is a pretty strong word already

0

Bringing in some abstract examples from literature and cinema to help I would suggest some verbs, some of them compound, to substitute for your "negate":

  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could prevail over the effort. ("Sometimes intuition prevails over the facts" - from the film "Naomi");
  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could override the effort.("Langdon seemed hesitant, as if his own academic curiosity were threatening to override sound judgment and drag him back into Fache's hands" - from Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code");
  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could mock the effort. ("The massive blister mocked my efforts" - Willie Morris);
  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could trump the effort. ("Money trumps feelings every time" - from the TV series "Castle");
  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could stultify the effort.("Marriage might...and would... stultify my mental processes" - from "Lady Chatterley's Lover");
  • I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could overrule the effort.("His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge" - from Carlos Castañeda's "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge").
0

Since you are trying to cram extra info into your memory, the term "expunge" may be applicable.

I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation I'd experience could expunge all I know on the topic.

One of the definitions of expunge is "to eliminate from one's consciousness", which seems to be close to what I interpret the original question is aiming at.

1
  • How about "I could cram for this test all night, but the sleep deprivation would make the effort counter-productive."
    – Dale Verdi
    Oct 15 at 2:09

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