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Complete opposites

Complete opposites
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While your dictionary or thesaurus may list a pair of words as antonyms, there’s a chance they really aren’t diametric opposites. For example, the opposite of cold is hot, not warm. Before you drop a word in as an antonym, look beyond the first definition and think about precisely what you want to convey.

Watch out for these 70 words and phrases that you’re probably using all wrong.

Useless/operative

Useless/operative
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Something can be useless for a particular task even while it is fully operative, aka, functioning, or in working order. Useful is the best word to express the opposite of useless. Example: New batteries made the television remote operative but it was completely useless as a hairbrush.

Worthless/adequate

Worthless/adequate
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Since worthless means of no value, its antonym is of great merit or value, not just passable or adequate. Example: The barren tree was worthless as shelter from the rain but the abandoned shed provided adequate cover for a while.

Understand/misinterpret

Understand/misinterpret
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It is possible to understand or comprehend something yet be unable to explain it correctly, the primary definition of misinterpret. Example: Reading the CliffsNotes helped me understand Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I know Jackie understood the novel even though her book report misinterpreted its central tenets.

Wily/dumb

Wily/dumb
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The word wily dates back to Middle English and describes a character as cagey, slick, cunning, or devious; dumb refers to intellect. Examples: The wily salesman convinced customers to buy insurance they didn’t need and couldn’t afford. John isn’t dumb; he simply refuses to study.

Concede/disagree

Concede/disagree
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While concede – to acknowledge grudgingly or hesitantly – requires action or an expressed admission, one can fail to agree or have a disagreement that’s unexpressed or privately held. Rebuff or reject are better antonyms for concede. Example: I concede that the speech was boring but we disagree on how best to fix it.

Learn about the 15 words that have completely changed meaning.

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Invective/respect

Invective/respect
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Invective – insulting or abusive language – is expressed or conveyed, whereas respect is an attitude or feeling of consideration or high regard. Example: Maria had great respect for Michael before he delivered a speech that was long on invective and short on facts.

Contemplate/overlook

Contemplate/overlook
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Contemplate, defined as to view or consider with continued attention, requires deliberate action, whereas overlook or to fail to notice indicates unintentionality. Disregard or dismiss are more direct opposites. Example: I spent days contemplating why I wasn’t invited to the wedding until I realised I had overlooked the invitation in the mail.

Grammar nerds will get a laugh at these 12 thesaurus jokes.

Mollify/annoy

Mollify/annoy
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To mollify or gain the goodwill of requires an intended effort, whereas annoying can be unintentional. Example: Georgina did her best to mollify the boss’ wife whenever she came to the office. Brad had no idea how much his poor table manners annoyed his wife.

Dictionary editors say this is the most misused word in the English language.

Pontificate/praise

Pontificate/praise
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It is possible to offer praise (to verbally express a favourable opinion) in a pontificating manner (speaking or expressing opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way). Example: My tennis partner pontificates at length about her daughter’s brilliance. I find this excessive praise a bit over the top.

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