When students get to college, the majority of them have never thought about antonyms as being anything more than “opposites.” So big is the opposite of small, just like buyer is the opposite of seller. Then, all of a sudden, students are forced into a linguistics course with a professor who tells them that they have to learn to differentiate among different types of antonyms. Student’s minds are nearly exploding with information as they have to learn definitions of terms like ‘converse’ and ‘gradable’ and ‘complementary’ in the world of antonyms
After spending a large portion of one class talking about the differences in types of antonyms and providing example after example of those different types, I put the following question on a semantics quiz:
What is the difference among the following types of antonyms: gradable, converse, and complementary? Provide examples of each in your answer.
When I wrote the question, I mistakenly thought it would be one of the easier questions. I thought that perhaps students would struggle with finding the right words to talk about the differences, but they would
To refresh others’ memories and to pat myself on the back for teaching something to at least one of the 50 students who took the quiz, here is the “best” answer
Gradable antonyms lie on opposing ends of a spectrum that has many points lying in between (one way to think about it). “Beautiful” and “hideous” for example, can be “graded” by calling something “incredibly beautiful” or “bordering on hideous.” Converse antonyms are words that derive meaning from their opposite such that one can’t exist apart from the other like “grandparent” and “grandchild.” Complementary antonyms are non-
gradable, such as “single” and “married.”
My heart beats a little faster every time I read that answer. Chances are, the student who wrote it is simply a good student who actually reads the textbook and would have gotten it correct even without my enlightening lecture on antonyms, but I still like to think that my guidance played a small part in the student’s ability to construct such a well-
My heart then skips a few beats and eventually slows altogether as I read through the other answers I got on the quiz. Here are the answers from those students who gallantly attempted to answer the question (the following answers are “undoctored”; that is, they appear exactly as they appeared on the quiz):
Converse antonyms are in the spoken language, gradable is when antonyms are opposite in different levels, complementary antonyms are opposites but they complement each other in a sentence.
If something is gradable it can be measured, such as height, if something is converse it is a meeting point of two things such as two lines in an angle. Something that is complimentary highlights something else such as the colors yellow and violet. These antonyms are not necessarily opposites, they just have differing meaning.
Gradable would be like something you can grade: husband/wife. Converse would be something like time: now/then. Complementary you can’t have one without the other: buyer/seller.
Complementary can use gradable and converse; a complement can be gradable and you converse to know what is complementary but without complementary the words do not fit together.
Gradable: It has different levels of meaning.
Converse: One we use in conversations, common phrases.
Complementary: They may be opposite but pertain to the same thing, a love
Converse means two things or ideas are in opposition to each other; whereas, complementary are where two things or ideas help to reinforce one another.
Ex: The two chemicals, having a converse reaction, started a fire.I am unsure of what gradable means.
Ex: Orange is a complementary color of blue.
Gradable antonyms are antonyms that can be physically shown to be opposites such as man/
A gradable antonyms is one that can be measured, such as “slow” to “fast.” A converse antonym is one that has little relevance to the word it’s opposite to, such as “sky”, “grand.” A complementary antonyms is when it helps add meaning to the word it is opposite to, such as “confusing” to “understandable.”
Gradable is an adjective.
Converse is a verb.
Complementary is an adverb.
Gradable antonyms show relation that can be judged on a scale; ex. pretty
It is at this point in grading that I begin to question whether I even showed up for class and lectured on the material. Or if I did show up, if I had consumed any adult beverages beforehand and presented all the wrong information. Or, perhaps the saddest realization of all, that it doesn’t matter what I say at the front of the classroom because students are too busy sleeping, daydreaming, or not-