I think that this is not pure antonymy. If it's still antonymy, do linguists have a separate term for this type of semantic relationship?

3 Answers 3


Mother is not the antonym of father. They are co-hyponyms because they are both a kind of parent - and parent is the hypernym of mother and father.

Antonymy is the relation that holds between parent and child. So by extension the antonym of mother could be said to be child.

EDIT: After reading hippietrail's answer, I somewhat changed my opinion. If one considers two words to be antonyms already if just one of their semantic features is replaced with the opposite then mother (female parent) and father (male parent) can be said to be antonyms. However, I feel that it might make sense to reserve antonymy for complete negation or oppositeness, and describe the relation between mother and father as hyponymy.

  • So male-female relationship it's always a co-hyponyms ( tiger and tigress) ? And the words "male" and "female" still antonyms paradoxically?
    – exe2013
    Aug 26, 2013 at 12:01
  • Tiger and tigress is more complicated because tiger can mean 'male tiger' and 'tiger (regardless of sex, so-called generic)'. Tiger (male) and tigress are co-hyponyms and are both a kind of tiger (generic). Female and male are antonyms.
    – robert
    Aug 26, 2013 at 12:28
  • Very few words have precisely one sense, so just as with many other topics about words, when we talk of a word having an antonym, we're really talking about a specific sense having an antonym. Both mother and father have senses which are not directly related to each other. Aug 27, 2013 at 4:55
  • Parent and child are also co-hyponyms. They are both kinds of family-member. Aug 27, 2013 at 4:56
  • In the end I think it comes down to "antonym" not really being the "natural" or "God given" concept that it at first seems. As such it will be understood or analysed differently by different people. There are probably some more strictly defined technical terms to cover various more specific kinds of oppositeness. So whether it "makes sense" for you or me or all of us reading to "reserve antonymy" to a particular interpretation, we can't really ensure everybody using the word will conform to such a decree. Aug 30, 2013 at 6:20

I disagree with hippietrail's answer as I have not seen any dictionaries which describe this type of relationship as antonymy. For example: father, père. In Merriam-webster we have descendant as antonym, and in TLFi enfant. As such, I don't think considering these types of words as antonyms is a common point of view.

In Semantics (1977, pp. 279—280), John Lyons calls this relationship converseness:

To be distinguished from antonymy and complementarity is converseness*, exemplified by pairs like 'husband' : 'wife' (which may be regarded as two-place predicates). The sentence 'X is the husband of Y' express a proposition whose converse is expressed by 'X is the wife of Y' (cf. 6.3).

Converse relations between lexemes which may be used as two-place predicative expressions are especially common in areas of the vocabulary having to do with reciprocal social roles ('doctor' : 'patient', 'master'/'mistress' : 'servant') and kinship relations ('father' : 'mother','son' : 'daughter' etc.) <...>

But in my opinion it's not applicable for lion/lioness, tiger/tigress so I don't know how to call this kind of relationship.

  • 1
    "I have not seen any dictionaries which describe this type of relationship as antonymy" here's one: thesaurus.com/browse/father
    – dainichi
    Aug 28, 2013 at 9:58
  • Wiktionary is another: father / antonyms ; mother / antonyms Aug 28, 2013 at 14:09
  • One of my first forays into (near-)linguistics was BBS textfiles like "opposites" by R. Morneau which calls male/female for counterparts. The book mentioned there, Lexical Semantics by D.A. Cruse, Cambridge University Press, 1986, is it still worth getting? Cambridge Red Series, yes, but they do age...
    – kaleissin
    Aug 28, 2013 at 18:54

Yes they are antonyms. That doesn't affect whether they may have other, possibly even overlapping or seemingly contradictory relationships, such as being co-hyponyms.

Antonyms are two words which are opposites. That seems pretty simple. But in fact you have to think about what "opposite" means, and what it means for words in particular.

In the end it comes down to semantics like so many other things, and people will surely come up with multiple analyses.

  • Antonyms can be adjectives naming properties: short vs long.
  • They can be abstract nouns naming properties: shortness vs length.

If a property can possess a value along a scale then generally values toward each end of the scale are seen as opposites.

Then there are properties which can have one of two values, which can of course be analysed as a special case of the previous.

I'm sure some people analyse "male" and "female" to be antonyms, and people who would strongly refute it. They can certainly be argued against semantically.

If two words are nouns then they need refer to objects having one property which has "opposing" values. Some nouns have more than one property capable of this. Others have none.

  • My problem with considering "mother" and "father" antonyms because they differ in gender is that, unlike "male" and "female", the gender is more a secondary characteristic. Following this line of reasoning "actor" and "actress" are also antonyms, which seems wrong to me. That said, the gender is part of the semantics of these types of words (even if not the main point) so I do understand how one can argue this point of view.
    – acattle
    Aug 27, 2013 at 13:15
  • I think the point is that it's a question where the answer is "it depends" or "it depends who you ask" or "it depends how you define your terms" or "there's more than one way to analyse it". Actor and actress are antonyms in the way yin and yang are that just doesn't work at all if you alter a different attribute like actor and child actor for want of a better example. Aug 27, 2013 at 18:49

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