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Other ways to form the opposites of adjectives

A more general way of creating the opposite of an adjective is to use the word ‘least’ or ‘less’ before the adjective:

He is the least intelligent person in the meeting room.

This is not exactly the complete opposite of the word intelligent because we’re not saying he’s dumb. All we’re saying is that he’s not as smart as anyone else in the meeting room. It’s a way of creating the opposite meaning of an adjective for the purposes of comparison. It’s not quite as strong as using the actual opposite of an adjective.

Now, you’ve got two choices when you do this. You can use the comparative form ‘less’ or you can use the superlative form ‘least’. Use ‘less’ when you’re only comparing two things; use ‘least’ when you’re comparing three or more things:

He is less intelligent than Bob.

Mike is the least intelligent of the four.

You can use ‘less’ and ‘least’ when you want to diplomatically say that someone is bad at something, softening the statement’s impact somewhat so you don’t offend them. Compare these two sentences:

This one, which sounds pretty harsh:

Michael is the stupidest boy in his class.

And this one, which is not quite as harsh:

Michael is the least intelligent boy in his class.

Using the second sentence also allows the reader to interpret more. Say Michael’s parents were reading this statement. They might think to themselves, "Well, the other boys in Michael’s class are very intelligent." The first sentence, however, doesn’t really leave much room for interpretation and is quite direct.

Handy Hint - ‘Flammable’ and ‘inflammable’

Adding a prefix in front of an adjective does not always give it the opposite meaning. The best example of this is the words ‘flammable’ and ‘inflammable’, which mean the same thing. Most people see the ‘in’ in front of ‘flammable’ and automatically assume that the whole word means ‘not flammable’. This is a logical thing to think since when it is applied to other words like ‘decent’ and ‘indecent’, you do have opposites.

However, in this case, the ‘in’ is a different ‘in’ to that in the word ‘indecent’. It all goes back to how we got these words from Latin. To cut a long story short, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. If you want a word for the opposite of flammable, use the word nonflammable.