Antonyms are words that mean the opposite. For example the antonym of above is below. The antonym of dangerous is safe. Positive is the antonym of negative.

Some prefixes and suffixes give words their opposite meaning, for example: inside – outside, upwards – downwards, useful – useless.

The following prefixes all give words their opposite meaning:

convenient – inconvenient
patient – impatient
agree – disagree
happy – unhappy
legal – illegal
relevant – irrelevant
clockwise – anti-clockwise
fortune – misfortune
regulate – deregulate
violent – non-violent

Synonyms are words that mean the same or have a similar meaning. For example, the ‘end’ of a story is also its ‘conclusion’, and an event that happens ‘yearly’ is an ‘annual’ event.

Synonyms help to make language interesting and precise. They provide you with more choice of words when you describe something.

Compare these sentences:

The weather was bad and there was a big storm, which did a lot of bad damage to the crops.
The weather was foul and there was a massive storm, which did severe damage to the crops.

We get a more dramatic and interesting idea of the storm in the second sentence. Did you notice that all the synonyms in this pair of sentences are adjectives?

Here is a list of ordinary adjectives (and their antonyms) that sometimes make writing boring to read: big/small; good (or nice)/bad; pretty/ugly; a lot/few; thin/fat; happy/sad; clever/stupid; right/wrong. Each of these words has many synonyms to choose from – but when you use synonyms to make your writing more interesting, make sure that you use the correct synonym for the context. For example:

nice food ►delicious/tasty/enticing/appetising food

But, in most contexts, none of these adjectives would be appropriate when describing a nice person!

nice person ►friendly/special/wonderful/helpful/kind

To describe a person as ‘nice’ is not helpful or precise, but if we know that the person is ‘friendly’ or ‘helpful’ we have a much clearer idea of their personality.

A word that we use very often is (oops) ‘very’. You can usually find a synonym to do a better job. For example: very often – frequently; very hot – sizzling; very cold – icy; very wet – soaking; very bad – evil.

You can also jazz up your nouns and verbs by using synonyms. For example:

‘The smell from the fish factory is bad,’ my grandmother said.
‘The stench from the fish factory is disgusting,’ my grandmother complained.

The noun ‘stench’ and verb ‘complained’ are more interesting, and (with the adjective ‘disgusting’) they also give a clearer, more precise picture of how bad the problem is and the feelings of the grandmother.

We think of adjectives and adverbs as being descriptive words, but in fact, we can use verbs to do the same work. For example:

The eagle flew high over the mountains. The eagle soared over the mountains.
We ran fast to get help. We raced to get help.

Verbs that do a more precise and interesting job of describing an action are called ‘strong verbs’, for example:

He said some words to the boy. ► He whispered … (This tells us how softly he spoke – and the context will tell us why)

They went to town. ► They hurried … (This tells us that they were in a rush)

She got an award. ► She achieved … (An award is an achievement and something to be proud of.)

Ask yourself, ‘how did that person/animal/thing act?’ and try to find a single word to describe it.

Check context

Remember that when you are asked for an antonym or synonym of a word, you need to check if you are given the context, as words can mean different things in different contexts.

This test is hard. In this case a synonym for hard would be difficult.

Your muscles are hard. In this case a synonym for hard would be firm, or strong.

He is a hard man. In this case a synonym for hard would be unforgiving, or cruel.