I like to play a game where I take a descriptive word with an emotional bias (i.e. describing something "good" or "bad") and I try to think of a word with roughly the same meaning but with the opposite emotional bias. Put differently: (rough) synonyms, but of opposite sentiment.

For example:

  • nit-picking vs. detail-oriented
  • fanatical vs. passionate
  • careless vs. relaxed
  • flimsy vs. delicate
  • smelly vs. fragrant
  • overgrown vs. lush
  • gullible vs. trusting
  • stubborn vs. steadfast
  • controlling vs. attentive
  • extravagant vs. luxurious
  • know-it-all vs. knowledgeable
  • meek vs. modest

Words with opposite meaning are called antonyms, but is there a term for words of similar meaning with opposite sentiment?

  • 1
    These are words which might be listed as synonyms in a thesaurus even though they have rather different meanings. I don't know if it's fair to say that the difference is one of "sentiment". For example, something is "flimsy" when it is not strong enough for a given purpose, in fact, much weaker than it should be. The difference vis-a-vis delicate is not one of attitude merely.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 14:29
  • 1
    I'm inventing connotation pairs as an offering for these frenemies. Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 14:59
  • "Tonal opposites"? I see you want a categorical dichotomy, but if you went with the two identifying words for each opposite, you could just say "euphemism" or "dysphemism". If that doesn't do it, we could stick with Greek roots to make a "categorizing" word for these tonal opposites, & maybe you could coin "tonophemisms" (from "tonos) or the more awkward "synkinephemisms" (from "συγκίνηση", emotion, adapting the 'motion' part of "emotion" to sound like "kinetic" to anglophones.) I know, I know. "connotation pairs" (connotative?) never sounded so good! xD
    – shermy
    Commented Jun 3 at 7:07
  • These words are all described as "emotive". [MW - 2: appealing to or expressing emotion. the emotive use of language] The terms used to distinguish them are usually "positive" (i.e. desirable) and "negative" (i.e. undesirable) - e.g. fanatical (negative) vs. passionate (positive.)
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jun 3 at 9:56
  • These all seem to express value judgements on traits, bad vs good. Pejoratives and amelioratives. But that names the different examples you've given, not a word for 'words with meanings showing similar surface properties but with different senses of acceptability'. This reminds me of the 'irregular verb view of life': 'I'm circumspect, you waver, he's paralysed with fear'. Commented Jun 3 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


There seems to be a term related to the use of such language, familiar to all who might have heard an impassioned speech by such as a political candidate.

It's used in a construction known as emotional conjugation.

Also known as Russel Conjugation (from Bertrand Russell in a Radio 4 broadcast in 1948).:

It is a rhetorical construction using a figure of speech which uses the emotional connotation of words with similar meanings to persuade the listener to a particular view through implication, rather than through fact.:

"I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool."

As the articles seemed sufficiently clear, the links are all Wikipedia.


While antonyms refer to words with opposite meanings, the concept you’re describing—words of similar meaning but with opposite emotional bias—is often referred to as “connotation reversal” or “contrasting connotations.” These pairs of words evoke different emotional responses despite having similar denotations.

Here are a few more examples to add to your game:
Harsh (negative connotation) vs. Assertive (positive connotation)
Timid (negative connotation) vs. Reserved (positive connotation)
Arrogant (negative connotation) vs. Confident (positive connotation)
Sloppy (negative connotation) vs. Relaxed (positive connotation)
Stingy (negative connotation) vs. Frugal (positive connotation)

  • 2
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 3 at 6:20
  • I'd emphasise the above comment, geraldine. The answer sounds authentic and if so is a valuable contribution, very worthy of upvoting ... but unsupported answers can come over as (and may even be) purely opinion. Please add a quote, attribution, and link to a recognised authority / teaching institution. Commented Jun 17 at 13:17

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