"buy" and "sell" that are basically the same action/event, but reverse arguments (subject of one, the object of the other):

  • X sold his car to Y.
  • Y bought a car from X.

Is there a any special name for verb pairs? How many verb-pairs exist in English exist? (is it like <5 or one can come up with mechanism/algorithm to generate many more pairs?)

  • I sell stuff, you buy stuff. Both verbs have the same object.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 16:34
  • @YellowSky I assume he means secondary object: I sell to you, you buy from me.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 22:30
  • Updated the description.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 0:48
  • 3
  • 2
    Reminds me of Biblical Hebrew binyan (link), where verbal inflection makes pairs, triplets, or bigger sets out of one root. It becomes trivial to create active/causative pairs such as learn/teach, die/kill, see/show, eat/feed, know/inform. You can also mix passive in there. Thus "sell" and "cause to be sold" (a.k.a. "buy"?) are two aspects of one idea. Sadly, this probably isn't helpful for coming up with English terminology, hence this isn't an answer... Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


I'm not aware of a special name/class for them. Yet I can imagine some pairs:

  • loan / borrow (I loan to you / You borrow from me)
  • write / read (I write to you / You read from me)
  • send / receive (I send to you / You receive from me)
  • speak / listen (I speak to you / You listen from me)

It's hard to think about a class for this. At first I thought about some kind of antonyms (buy is antonym of sell, loan is antonym of borrow). But I can't apply it to my whole list, so it's not right.

It's like... The second verb in the pair is like a new word for the passive form of the first verb, something like this. Hard to define.

  • Give / take, teach / learn, throw / catch.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 10:38
  • bring/take are in opposition, but for direction not agency.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 14:59

These are usually called 'converses' or 'relational antonyms'. There are more than five, actually there are quite a few because not only verbs, but also nouns and other parts of speech can be converses, e.g., "father-son", etc. (you can find a NON-EXHAUSTIVE list here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Converse_(semantics)). It is unlikely that you could come up with an algorithm to generate "many more pairs", since these pairs are lexicalized and you cannot create them at will: there isn't a productive morphological mechanism to create converses in English. (Except in technical uses by linguists: -er/-ee as in "kisser-kissee", etc.)


It would be an issue of valency of the verbs. In such pairs, the valency is inverted, regarding subject/indirect object. In other pairs, the inversion is regarding subject/direct object (such as in I like you = You please me). I am sure that there are pairs where the inversion relates to direct/indirect objects too, but I can't think of an example just now.

I am not sure there are technical names for these oppositions - you might coin them, perhaps.

  • Should you retract the statement about object inversions?
    – amI
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 22:07
  • Perhaps show/present? (I show this to you - I present you to this) Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 21:40
  • No. Those are working as one bi-valent verb (cf. 'expose'). I would never pair "I show this pen to you" with "I present you to this pen", or "I present you to this audience" with "I show this audience to you".
    – amI
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 23:38
  • @amI - I will present you to a difficult situation - I will show you a difficult situation. I see what you mean; we don't show people, and we don't present people to objects. But concerning abstract nouns, isn't it possible to use either? Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 12:13

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