I am trying to find a single word antonym for "exceed". I am using the word as a verb (so "beneath" doesn't work) and it should have a positive connotation (as in a golf score which falls below par).

I thought of "subceed", which I like, and found a few Google hits but it doesn't show up in any reputable dictionaries.

I've reviewed answers to similar questions and found no suitable alternatives.

For example, the selected answer to What would be an appropriate opposite of "exceed"? suggested:

  • "eluded" — has a mostly negative connotation and implies intention
  • "beneath" — is not a verb
  • "are below"/"did not meet" — phrases

I'm looking to replace "exceeded" in the following quotes with a single word (meaning something like "went below", "were under", etc.):

"He never gets tickets because he always exceeds the speed limit."
"To win the match, Tiger Woods must exceeded 4 strokes on the twelth hole."
"To prevent freezing, do not exceed -20 degrees centigrade."

  • 1
    -1 You're asking for the impossible. The example you give demands a negative connotation because the notion "below par" is negative. Only in graphs where "smaller/lower/less is better" is not exceeding some cutoff point positive. In addition, this violates one of the restrictions in the FAQ: Don't ask for programming variable names on EL&U.
    – user21497
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:02
  • 5
    I don't think the term you're looking for actually exists, but I disagree with Bill F that the question is off-topic. The fact that it's also being used for a table name is, to me, incidental.
    – Lynn
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:06
  • 3
    It seems like you are confusing your goal with the way in which your goal is measured. You can achieve a goal, exceed a goal, or fall short of a goal whether that goal is a golf score or a race time or a total points scored. If my goal is to shoot a 72 and I shoot a 75, I've fallen short of my goal. So it's not that there are different types of goals it's just about how the measurement is mapped to the goal "ranges".
    – Jim
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:07
  • 3
    Try undershoot.
    – user21497
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:12
  • 4
    just don't mention that it's a variable name; say that you're asking the question to help underprivileged youth and it'll fly just fine.
    – user31341
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:15

15 Answers 15


maintain: i.e., stay within (the limits)

TFD: 3. to keep in a specified state, position, etc.
ODO: keep (something) at the same level or rate

When you have not exceeded, i.e., stayed within the speed limit,

You maintained the speed limit.

Use case:

dailyindependentnig: FRSC urges motorists to maintain speed limits
Miller et al. Community Policing: ... maintain speed limit
Wild Trail in Bengal: maintain speed limit of 20 kmph.

He never gets tickets because he always maintains the speed limit.
To win the match, Tiger Woods must maintain the 4 strokes on the twelfth hole limit.
To prevent freezing, maintain within -20 degrees centigrade.

  • 1
    As I originally said, I'd like a word that can be used for "a golf score which falls below par". Maintain does not work, here. Perhaps exceed simply has too many nuanced definitions depending on context.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:07
  • 2
    @JDB - If "exceed" is "more than" (>) then the opposite can be defined as either "less than" (<) or "not more than / less than or equal to" (<=). When using the second definition, "maintain" fits well.
    – dj18
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:19
  • From a strict mathematical perspective, "not more than" would be the more correct opposite. But in casual conversation "less than" would also be understood.
    – dj18
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:26
  • 2
    @JDB The answer was posted before the question was updated. The original question had but one context: For You exceeded the speed limit. -- what is the word to say You did not exceed the speed limit.?
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2013 at 5:43
  • 3
    After studying the etymology a bit more, I see that the roots words for "exceed" meant, basically, "go out", or to leave a boundary. I have always understood exceed to mean "go above". Given this subtle change in definition, "maintain" makes a lot more sense as an antonym for exceed.
    – JDB
    Dec 13, 2013 at 15:15

There is no established opposite to the word exceed, and it's quite often suggested that there's a gap in the language that needs to be filled! Some people have come up with deceed as a possible candidate, but there is as yet no real evidence of its use.

: as stated here.

However the word exceed has many varied usage that a single antonym might not be possible. Also I believe that a one word antonym might not be the best choice for exceed.

In fact, even in the examples in your case, the best case antonyms for exceed are different for each example (in my opinion):

  1. He never gets tickets because he always keeps under the speed limit.
  2. To win the match, Tiger Woods must stay under 4 strokes on the twelth hole.
  3. To prevent freezing, do not go below -20 degrees centigrade.

But If I have to give an antonym for exceed it will be RECEDE, although it will be based completely on the latin roots of the words (and may not suit your case), which are:

exceed: excessus (surpass, go above, go beyond, go over, top, beat).

recede: recedere (move away, retreat, withdraw, drawback, draw away).

NOTE: The example sentence given by you are grammatically or logically incorrect. The correct ones should be:

  1. He never gets tickets because he never exceeds the speed limit.
  2. To win the match, Tiger Woods must have exceeded (OR must exceed) 4 strokes on the twelth hole.
  3. {Here, the word exceed might not be the best choice: might be debatable}: To prevent freezing, do not go above -20 degrees centigrade.

OR the more appropriate (debatable again):

To prevent freezing, do not increase the temperature above -20 degrees centigrade.

  • I intentionally used the word exceed incorrectly because I was hoping to replace it with its antonym. "I'm looking to replace "exceeded" in the following quotes..."
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 18:47
  • As the first answer to provide an authoritative reference (and since I think you are correct that there is no antonym), I'm marking this as the answer.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 18:52
  • Going above -20 means to go less negative. Above in a numerical context always means more positive, so the sense of your last correction is inverted. The original makes more sense especially since the value is a threshold. Constraining something to be within a minimum amount requires a word other than exceed; deceed would make a lot of sense here, actually.
    – Anthony
    Nov 25, 2018 at 15:33

It's idiomatic, but why not try "ducks"?

"He never gets tickets because he always ducks the speed limit."

"To win the match, Tiger Woods must duck 4 strokes on the twelth hole."

"To prevent freezing, do not duck -20 degrees centigrade." (I know... Reach!)

How can a duck have a negative connotation though? QUACK! :)

EDIT: It does give the impression of a sudden act of sudden reduction or going beneath though, rather than a steady ongoing process. But heck... it's a duck. Who doesn't like a duck?

  • One must respect a duck, though this isn't quite what I was hoping for.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:39

You'd like a transitive verb meaning "be less than". The object is a quantity which is not exceeded. In verbs like surpass, exceed, etc., the subject intuitively has more agent-like properties, and the object more patient-like properties. This is a very prototypical alignment between grammatical relations (e.g., subject, object) and semantic relations (e.g., agent, patient) across languages.

The hoped for word reverses the prototypical alignment, and so you will find one only by getting lucky, since this type of word doesn't usually grammaticalize naturally. Imagine a fake word snarg, which, when used as follows:

Thomas snarged Carmen.

means "Thomas was killed by Carmen." Most English speakers would object because the undergoer (the one killed) is encoded as a subject rather than an object.

In your volunteer activities with underprivileged youth, try to give them a crash course in argument structure (may I suggest Levin & Rappaport-Hovav's Argument Realization?). Some good students might just ask whether, if we were constructing a formal language, we might coin a term like nexceed (not exceed), or exceditur (is exceeded [by]).

  • Between you and me, I went with "IsGoodToMeet" and "IsBetterToExceed" (which can be set to false, implying the opposite with needing to word it)
    – JDB
    Jan 10, 2013 at 4:57
  • After more thought, I don't think this answer quite hits the nail on the head. There is no subject/object confusion in the sentences "You went above the speed limit."/"You went below the speed limit.". It is normal to replace "went above" with "exceed". I'm still looking for a single word replacement for "went below".
    – JDB
    Nov 20, 2013 at 15:33
  • @JDB try overshoot/undershoot
    – user31341
    Nov 20, 2013 at 19:01
  • Thanks, that's been suggested before. Sounds very awkward, though, don't you think? "You undershot the speed limit." Sounds like you missed (which is the technical definition). I should probably just give up - I don't think the word exists.
    – JDB
    Nov 20, 2013 at 19:10

I like subceed

I have this exact problem when talking about the specification of a material, the property of which must be measured to be lower than a specific target. It must not exceed the target, but must improve upon it by falling lower.

The speed limit example is confusing, because you could say a car's default speed is zero, and actual speed is compared to that. I am interested in thermal conductivity of insulation materials where lower is better, but other than using a vacuum cannot realistically approach zero. In this case the default could be said to be 1, with the best materials subceeding 0.1.

  • Edited the question to include more examples (with arbitrary scales or measurements where zero is not possible).
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:04

The word break is commonly used for this purpose. It can be used regardless of whether the goal is being approached from above or below:

  • Roger Bannister was the first runner to break the four-minute mile.

  • Chuck Yeager was the first pilot to break the sound barrier.

For more information see the “break” entry at OneLook.com.¹

  • That works, although, for the O.P.'s sentence, I'd probably include the word not: "It was good for her to not break the 2,000 calorie limit" – in which case, the word exceed could still be used.
    – J.R.
    Jan 10, 2013 at 13:57

Try "remain below".

Sorry for my delayed response - was searching Google for the same thing, came across this page, and then suddenly settled on that one for myself.

  • Remain well below and remain (well) within, also.
    – Merk
    Sep 30, 2013 at 4:29
  • Remain below does not work. Exceed means to go beyond a threshold, which can be negative or positive. Doing the opposite has no word; it requires many words to explain succinctly. 'Remain below -20 degrees to prevent freezing' has inverted logic when the objective is to remain at or above -20. There also can't be a sense of meeting the threshold since exceed has no notion of that. If you exceed something, you went beyond the threshold and that's it. If you do the opposite, you stayed under the threshold whether you meant to or not.
    – Anthony
    Nov 25, 2018 at 15:37

How about "undercut"?

I suggest this because it can be both positive and negative in connotation just as "exceed" can be. You can exceed expectations (positive) or exceed the upper limit (negative).

Similarly, you can undercut a price in your favor (positive), say, in a business deal. Or you can undercut a reputation, thereby tarnishing it (negative).


Not all places we can use "exceed" to mean "go beyond a specific range", nor can we use at all places the antonym of "exceed". As you want just the antonym of "exceed" only, I will go this way - Exceed - "ex" (out) + "cedere" (go)

Opposite of "exceed" - "In" + "cedere" = inceed

Though there is no such word in the dictionary available till now. Just sharing a thought, obviously with a greed for bounty :) :)


I regularly use deceed even though it is not "authorized" by some "official". The word practically defines itself and is almost necessary in some cases. I use it to describe any case where something falls below a low limit. It indicates the derivative of a value as well as its value with respect to another value. Not accepting its use seems erudite.

  • Yes... since accepting an answer, I thought of another example: "He exceeded the speed limit." How can you say the opposite in the same number of words? Certainly the idea "The speed limit exceeded him" is ridiculous... so I'm not sure I buy the whole subject/object explanation.
    – JDB
    Nov 20, 2013 at 15:25
  • 3
    If I saw deceed, I would think it to be a misspelling of decede.
    – choster
    Nov 20, 2013 at 19:49


You were within the speed limit.


I was under par.

underperform (v):

His speed underperformed expectations.

Fail (v):

He failed the requirements.

(failed to meet, that is)

  • 1
    Neither "under" nor "within" are verbs. They both require a being verb, replacing a single word with two ("exceed" ==> "were within"/"was under")
    – JDB
    Nov 20, 2013 at 16:53
  • "Exceed" doesn't directly correlate with "success". The opposite is not necessarily "fail". "You failed the speed limit" is not the opposite of "You exceeded the speed limit".
    – JDB
    Nov 20, 2013 at 19:13
  • @JDB Of course... In your example, exceeding the speed limit can be interpreted as failure. Just presenting some ideas for you that have not otherwise been expressed yet. Nov 20, 2013 at 20:01

In my opinion, the opposite of "You exceeded the speed limit," would simply be,
"You respected the speed limit."

Similar single words that can be used in this context are obeyed and followed.

  • 1
    Why have so many users gotten stuck on an example. Sigh. Updated the question. Try sticking "respected" in those sentences... it doesn't work. Respected is not an antonym for exceed.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 17:31

I'd go for:

You underrun the speed limit.

  • Underrun implies a minimum threshold was not met. That's not the case with a speed limit in most instances.
    – Anthony
    Nov 25, 2018 at 15:39

He never gets tickets because he always sticks under the speed limit.

To win the match, Tiger Woods must stick under 4 strokes on the twelth hole.

To prevent freezing, stick under -20 degrees centigrade.


No one has mentioned reduce so far
v. lessen, diminish, decrease

  • Reduce your speed

    Reduce the temperature, or do not reduce the temperature

    Reduce the number of strokes (only in golf)

    Reduce your calorie intake, etc.

  • It's close, but not quite an antonym. He never gets tickets because he always reduces the speed limit. To win the match, Tiger Woods must reduce 4 strokes on the twelth hole. To prevent freezing, do not reduce -20 degrees centigrade.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 19:56
  • It would be: He never gets tickets because he always respects the speed limit. As a motorist I cannot reduce the official speed limit, I can however, reduce my speed on the road. You can definitely reduce or not reduce (further) the temperature; and I confess to not being a golf devotee, but if someone reduces their number of strokes, the meaning is pretty clear.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 12, 2013 at 20:05
  • You are changing the subject which is, implicitly, the speed of the car, not the driver. "The car's speed exceeded the posted limit." You have changed the subject to the driver: "The motorist respected the speed limit." "The car's speed respected the posted limit" doesn't make sense.
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 20:12
  • I reduce my car's speed. The subject is "I", " my car's speed" is the object of the sentence. The subject is the agent which performs the action. Therefore, I did not change the subject. The sentence, I exceeded (went beyond) the speed limit, makes grammatical and notional sense. I reduce the speed limit is grammatical, but its meaning is not the one you intend. Hence, I suggested in my answer: "Reduce your speed". Sometimes a little rewording is in order, and it's not always a bad thing! :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 12, 2013 at 20:28
  • 1
    I completely agree that rewording is necessary at times, especially if no antonym exists. But rewording the sentence does not answer the question: "Does an antonym exist?" :)
    – JDB
    Dec 12, 2013 at 20:40

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