English - Antonyms

Example - Find the word which means the opposite of the word on the left.

churlish rude unpleasant polite discourteous

The use of antonym questions is a common feature of English papers and the difficulty level should be similar to that of the synonyms. The time given will probably be identical and the only change should be the mindset of the candidate before they approach the question. Make sure your child knows that there are almost certain to be synonyms thrown in there to confuse the unwary.

In terms of answering the question, it's likely to be one of those 'easy if you know what the words mean' situations and the amount of guidance I can provide is small. However, just as with the synonyms, we should be encouraging the child to consider all aspects of the word - its spelling, the part of speech it seems to be and so on - and gain as many clues as they can. Don't spend a long time working it out, there will probably be plenty of questions that they don't get to answer if time is short, so simply push on and give it a cursory check to see whether it is solvable even though the word is unfamiliar.

In the example, 'churlish' is a word your child may have come across but will probably not have used or be able to explain. It ends in 'ish', a suffix which suggests an adjective. All the answers (which are more reasonable words) are adjectives, so this is a dead end. If they are stuck, here's another trick - if there are four words and three are very similar, it's likely that the answer is the one that isn't. If 'rude', 'unpleasant' and 'discourteous' mean roughly the same thing, it isn't likely that only one of them could mean the opposite of the given word. That points to the correct answer, 'polite', which is quite different from all the others.

Example 2

Choose the correct antonym for each underlined word below.

The girls were extremely fatigued by the end of their netball game.

happy energetic sleepy sad

The antonyms here appear in a different format but, hopefully, the time spent having to read a whole sentence will be balanced out be your child having a far greater understanding of the meaning of the word in question. It makes so much difference to see a word in a context! In this question we can picture the girls having played a game of netball and can imagine what state they would be in. They may be happy or sad, depending on the result, but they are almost certain to have become very tired. There may be alternative words but this is a helpful starter. Encourage your child to run a brief picture of the events of the sentence through their heads and they should start to make sense of what is happening.

If your child didn't know the meaning of 'fatigued', with a group of 'tired' girls, the options start to look more straightforward. 'Sleepy' is in there as there is usually a word with fairly similar meaning to catch you out. If you think 'sad' could be the antonym, 'fatigued' must mean 'happy'. Does it sound right? Are there any other words which are similar or share the same root which mean 'happy'? No, there aren't - another possible answer is ruled out. 'Happy' could be the antonym if the meaning of 'fatigued' was 'unhappy'. Again, there are no clues to suggest this but at least the feel of the word is quite negative so I guess some may still be unsure here.

The correct answer - 'energetic' - should be easy enough to pick as, even though they may never have heard of 'fatigued' as a word, 'fatigue' is a concept they ought to have come across as a noun in their reading or listening. The root word should be known to them but good 'ruling out' can also lead them to a sensible answer.

Technique Tip:

Remember that antonyms and opposites are not necessarily the absolute opposites. While children may learn that 'fat' and 'thin' are opposites, they need to be aware that another antonym may exist. For example, 'lean' is a perfectly suitable antonym for 'fat' as well - there isn't a rule which states each word has one opposite. Similarly, there will be plenty of words which have no opposite. 'Black' may be the opposite of 'white', but what is the opposite of 'blue'? That said, if 'blue' was being used to mean 'feeling sad' then maybe it could have an opposite of 'happy'... Encourage your child to play with language!

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