27 words without natural opposites

Terms that require more than dropping a suffix or prefix to form their antonyms are called “unpaired.” Consider these examples.

The English language is full of words with uncommon properties.

We have contronyms, neologisms, palindromes and portmanteau words. Another set of terms with unusual properties are those known as unpaired words.

Unpaired words have no opposite equivalent. They have a prefix or suffix that suggests you could form an antonym by removing the prefix or suffix, but forming their opposites will take more work than that. You can be “disheveled, but not “sheveled.”

Unpaired words occur because certain words fall out of common usage (“ruthless” and “ruthful”) or because one word from a presumed pair is borrowed from another language (“dismayed” comes from the Old French “desmaier”).

Below are a few examples of unpaired words:

  • Bashful
  • Debunk
  • Deceitful
  • Disconcerting
  • Disdain
  • Disgruntled
  • Disheveled
  • Feckless
  • Hapless
  • Impetuous
  • Impromptu
  • Inadvertent
  • Indomitable
  • Inert
  • Infernal
  • Insipid
  • Intrepid
  • Misgivings
  • Misnomer
  • Nonchalant
  • Nonplussed
  • Toothless
  • Unbeknownst
  • Ungainly
  • Untoward
  • Unkempt
  • Unruly

What unpaired words would you add to the list, PR Daily readers?

Laura Hale Brockway is a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her posts on writing and editing at impertinentremarks.com.

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