What kind of antonyms are 'top' and 'bottom'?

KingdomCome

Member
Spanish-Mexico
Hi guys, this is a semantic question about antonyms. Hurford in Semantics a Coursebook page 125 asks whether top-bottom are gradable antonyms. He then answers 'no', given the hint which is combining the words with intensifiers (like very, how... If the combination sounds fine, it is gradable; otherwise it is not).

I agree that top/bottom cannot go with 'very' or 'how', but if they are not gradable, what kind of antonyms are they?

Hurford lists 4 kinds: binary (like dead/alive), converses (parent of / child of), multiple incompatibles (spring, summer, fall, winter) and gradable (hot/cold).
I think the pair cannot be binary antonyms (since if something is not at the bottom, it doesn't have to be on top). It is not gradable (as stated by Hurford). I'm not sure about the other two. What do you think? Thanks.
 
  • Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Well, if you look at the (or a) dictionary definition of "converse": "opposite or contrary in direction, action, sequence, etc.", that seems to suit "top" and "bottom" quite well.
    But it depends on context. It can be binary, e.g. if something flat, like a blanket or a sheet of paper, has two sides, and is lying horizontally, then it clearly has two sides, top and bottom.
    It can be a case of multiple incompatibles. Suppose there are three paragraphs on a page. Then you can refer to them as the top, middle, and bottom paragraphs.
    It can even be gradable, though this is perhaps the least likely option. If you imagine a page of writing, the first and last lines could be at said to be at the "very top" and at the "very bottom" of the page, but there is also content that is near top or bottom.
     

    KingdomCome

    Member
    Spanish-Mexico
    Well, if you look at the (or a) dictionary definition of "converse": "opposite or contrary in direction, action, sequence, etc.", that seems to suit "top" and "bottom" quite well.
    But it depends on context. It can be binary, e.g. if something flat, like a blanket or a sheet of paper, has two sides, and is lying horizontally, then it clearly has two sides, top and bottom.
    It can be a case of multiple incompatibles. Suppose there are three paragraphs on a page. Then you can refer to them as the top, middle, and bottom paragraphs.
    It can even be gradable, though this is perhaps the least likely option. If you imagine a page of writing, the first and last lines could be at said to be at the "very top" and at the "very bottom" of the page, but there is also content that is near top or bottom.
    Thank you. Can I ask one more question about gradable antonyms? I think of words like great/wonderful/excellent. Are they gradable? (I think not as you don't normally say very great or very excellent). But if these words have their antonyms (like bad or terrible...),then would the pairs be called gradable antonyms?
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Great is gradable but wonderful and excellent are non-gradable. We often use "absolutely/totally" with non-gradable adjectives. (absolutely wonderful/correct/unique)
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Are they gradable?
    Yes. One thing can be great, and another can be greater; one thing can be wonderful, another can be more wonderful; one thing can be excellent, another can excel more.
    You can't really define what their antonyms are except in context. There are no simple answers. The antonym of great isn't necessarily bad, but could be small. That of excellent could be mediocre.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    It can be a case of multiple incompatibles. Suppose there are three paragraphs on a page. Then you can refer to them as the top, middle, and bottom paragraphs.
    It can even be gradable, though this is perhaps the least likely option. If you imagine a page of writing, the first and last lines could be at said to be at the "very top" and at the "very bottom" of the page, but there is also content that is near top or bottom.
    I think you had the nouns "top" and "bottom" in mind. We are more likely to use "top" and "bottom" as nouns with "very".

    Even if you said "the very top/bottom noun'', the function of "very" would be absoluting (similar to the way absolutely modifies non-gradable adjectives/similar to the idea the very thing, e.g. the very best) rather than grading the intensity of "top/bottom" on a comparable level (as very meaning pretty/quite does). No?

    Thanks.
     

    KingdomCome

    Member
    Spanish-Mexico
    Yes. One thing can be great, and another can be greater; one thing can be wonderful, another can be more wonderful; one thing can be excellent, another can excel more.
    You can't really define what their antonyms are except in context. There are no simple answers. The antonym of great isn't necessarily bad, but could be small. That of excellent could be mediocre.
    Thanks, and what I wanted to know more is that whether words like great, excellent and their antonyms can be considered a pair of gradable antonyms?
     

    KingdomCome

    Member
    Spanish-Mexico
    Great is gradable but wonderful and excellent are non-gradable. We often use "absolutely/totally" with non-gradable adjectives. (absolutely wonderful/correct/unique)
    Same question as above - whether words like excellent/wonderful and their antonyms can be considered a pair of gradable antonyms? If not, what kinds of antonyms do you think they are?
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Same question as above - whether words like excellent/wonderful and their antonyms can be considered a pair of gradable antonyms? If not, what kinds of antonyms do you think they are?
    Oh, sorry I didn't get your question earlier. Looks like you are asking whether such adjective in pairs like the following can be considered gradable pairs (probably because you think the intensity of the quality described by the adjectives increases/decreases as we move from one adjective to another, right?):


    incorrect, correct
    bottom, top
    terrible, awesome
    dead, alive
    absent, present

    No, they do not express gradable intensity of the qualities but just the opposite qualities. Going from incorrect to correct is not intensifying/grading the quality expressed by the word "incorrect" -- it's just going in the opposite direction, while intensifying/grading the quality would mean going further in the same direction. "Incorrect" expresses incorrectness; "correct" does not express more incorrectness than "incorrect" -- it expresses an opposite quality. Similarly, "absent" means not present. ""Present" does not express a greater degree of absence -- it expresses an idea opposite to absent.


    So the adjectives listed above are not gradable pairs but simply non-gradable adjectives and their antonyms. Or simply pairs of non-gradable adjectives. If "present" meant a greater degree of absence than "absence", then you could say "absent, present" form a gradable pair but that's not the case.


    I hope I got your question right.
     
    Last edited:

    KingdomCome

    Member
    Spanish-Mexico
    Oh, sorry I didn't get your question earlier. Looks like you are asking whether such adjective in pairs like the following can be considered gradable pairs (probably because you think the intensity of the quality described by the adjectives increases/decreases as we move from one adjective to another, right?):


    incorrect, correct
    bottom, top
    terrible, awesome
    dead, alive
    absent, present

    So the adjectives listed above are not gradable pairs but simply non-gradable adjectives and their antonyms. Or simply pairs of non-gradable adjectives. If "present" meant a greater degree of absence than "absence", then you could say "absent, present" form a gradable pair but that's not the case.


    I hope I got your question right.
    I think these are examples of binary antonyms (If something is false, then it is not true like if someone is absent, they are not present). But what about the case of terrible and awesome? If something is not terrible, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is awesome. So if there is some value along the scale (from terrible to acceptable, then to awesome), would they be consider gradable antonyms?
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    We don't have gradable antonyms (in the sense you use the term) in English grammar, only gradable adjectives. And gradable adjectives have their own positive, comparative and superlative forms; we don't use different adjectives (other than the accepted 3 forms) to express the varying intensity of the same quality.
     
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