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Adjectival antonyms in discourse: A corpus study of scalar and complementary antonyms

  • Nataša Kostić EMAIL logo
From the journal Folia Linguistica


In the structuralist view, the distinction between scalar and complementary adjectival antonyms plays an important role in definitions and classifications of antonyms. Scalar adjectival antonyms are gradable and can be combined with degree modifiers (very cold, rather long), whereas complementary adjectival antonyms are mutually exclusive and can only be used with totality modifiers (completely dead, absolutely wrong). This theoretical classification, which is mostly based on researchers’ intuitions, can be complemented if we take a corpus-based approach to the study of antonyms and examine actual language data. Studies in different languages have found that antonyms perform various discourse functions in corpora of both spoken and written language. The aim of this study is to examine the question whether the categorization into scalar and complementary adjectival antonyms is reflected in actual usage in texts. The analysis is based on examples retrieved from the largest electronic corpus of Serbian; it includes twelve pairs of adjectival antonyms, occurring in a total of 5,296 sentences. The conclusion questions the necessity of making theoretical distinctions based on gradability, as examples from real language use show that adjectival antonyms are used similarly in written texts, irrespective of the property of gradability.


I would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions for improvement. A special thank you goes to the editor Hubert Cuyckens for all the help he gave me in revising, improving, and editing the paper. All remaining errors are exclusively mine.


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Received: 2015-12-13
Received: 2016-6-19
Revised: 2016-7-11
Accepted: 2016-8-4
Published Online: 2017-11-25
Published in Print: 2017-11-27

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