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Kyiv National Linguistic University

Project Work in English Lexicology



Yana Holub

Group 301

Translators’/Interpreters’ Department

Research supervisor:

V.G. Nikonova

Professor, Doctor of Philology

Kyiv 2012


I would like to begin with giving the definition of the antonyms. So, antonyms are pairs of words of the same language, belonging to the same part of speech and to the same semantic field; identical in style and nearly identical in distribution, associated and often used together, so that their denotative meaning render contradictory or contrary notions. According to Ginzburg R.S. antonymy in general shares many features typical of synonymy. Like synonyms, perfect or complete antonyms are fairly rare. It is usual to find the relations of antonymy restricted to certain contexts. Thus thick is only one of the antonyms of thin (a thin slice—a thick slice), another is fat (a thin man—a fat man). Therefore, if we compare the meaning of the words kind — ‘gentle, friendly, showing love, sympathy or thought for others’ and cruel— ‘taking pleasure in giving pain to others, without mercy’, we see that they denote concepts that are felt as completely opposed to each other. Comparing the adjective kind and unkind we do not find any polarity of meaning as here semantic opposition is confined to simple negation. Unkind may be interpreted as not kind which does not necessarily mean cruel, just as not beautiful does not necessarily mean ugly.

It is more or less universally recognized that among the cases that are traditionally described as antonyms there are at least the following four groups:

1. Contradictories which represent the type of semantic relations that exist between pairs like dead and alive, single and married, perfect and imperfect, etc. To use one of the terms is to contradict the other and to use not before one of them is to make it semantically equivalent to the other, e.g. not dead=alive, not single=married. Among contradictories we find a subgroup of words of the type young — old, big — small, and so on. The difference between these and the antonymic pairs described above lies in the fact that to say not young is not necessarily to say old.

In fact terms like young and old, big and small or few and many do not represent absolute values. To use one of the terms is to imply comparison with some norm: young means ‘relatively young’. We can say She is young but she is older than her sister. To be older does not mean ‘to be old’. It is also usual for one member of each pair to always function as the unmarked or generic term for the common quality involved in both members: age, size, etc. This generalized denotational meaning comes to the fore in certain contexts. When we ask How old is the baby? we do not imply that the baby is old. The question How big is it? may be answered by It is very big or It is very small. It is of interest to note that quality nouns such as length, breadth, width, thickness, etc. also are generic, i.e. they cover the entire measurement range while the corresponding antonymous nouns shortness, narrowness, thinness apply only to one of the extremes.

2. Contraries differ from contradictories mainly because contradictories admit of no possibility between them. One is either single or married, either dead or alive, etc. whereas contraries admit such possibilities. This may be observed in cold — hot, and cool and warm which seem to be intermediate members. Thus we may regard as antonyms not only cold and hot but also cold and warm.

Contraries may be opposed to each other by the absence or presence of one of the components of meaning like sex or age. This can be illustrated by such pairs as manwoman, man — boy.

3. Incompatibles. Semantic relations of incompatibility exist among the antonyms with the common component of meaning and may be described as the reverse of hyponymy, i.e. as the relations of exclusion but not of contradiction. To say

morning is to say not afternoon, not evening, not night. The negation of one member of this set however does not imply semantic equivalence with the other but excludes the possibility of the other words of this set. A relation of incompatibility may be observed between colour terms since the choice of red, e.g., entails the exclusion of black, blue, yellow and so on. Naturally not all colour terms are incompatible. Semantic relations between scarlet and red are those of hyponymy.

We know that polysemy may be analyzed through synonymy. For example, different meaning of the polysemantic word handsome can be singled out by means of synonymic substitution a handsome mana beautiful man; but a handsome rewarda generous reward. In some cases polysemy may be also analysed through antonymy (e.g. a handsome man — an ugly man, a handsome reward—an insufficient reward, etc.). This is naturally not to say that the number of meanings of a polysemantic word is equal to the number of its antonyms. Not all words or all meanings have antonyms (e.g. table, book, etc. have no antonyms). In some cases, however, antonymy and synonymy serve to differentiate the meanings as in the word handsome discussed above. Interchangeability in certain contexts analyzed in connection with synonyms is typical of antonyms as well. In a context where one member of the antonymous pair can be used, it is, as a rule, interchangeable with the other member. For instance, if we take the words dry and wet to be antonymous, they must be interchangeable in the same context (e.g. a wet shirt — a dry shirt).This is not to imply that the same antonyms are interchangeable in all contexts. It was pointed out above that antonyms that belong to the group of contraries are found in various antonymic pairs. Thus, for instance there are many antonyms of dry — damp, wet, moist, etc.

The interchangeability of each of them with dry is confined to certain contexts. In contrast to dry air we select damp air and in contrast to dry lips— we would probably use moist lips. It is therefore suggested that the term "antonyms" should be used as a general term to describe words different in sound-form and characterized by different types of semantic contrast of denotational meaning and interchangeability at least in some contexts.

4. Converses denote one and the same referent or situations viewed from different angles. E.g. parent-child.

Key words and expressions from the text:

  1. polarity of meaning – полярність значення

  2. completely opposed – абсолютно протилежний

  3. semantic opposition – семантична протилежність значення

  4. simple negation – просте заперечення

  5. сontradictories – заперечувальні

  6. to imply comparison – мати на увазі порівняння

  7. contraries – протилежні

  8. incompatibles – несумісні

9) interchangeable – взаємозамінний, рівнозначний

10) polysemy – багатозначність.

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