Unpaired word

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An unpaired word is one that, according to the usual rules of the language, would appear to have a related word but does not.[1] Such words usually have a prefix or suffix that would imply that there is an antonym, with the prefix or suffix being absent or opposite.

Unpaired words can be the result of one of the words falling out of popular usage, or can be created when only one word of a pair is borrowed from another language, in either case yielding an accidental gap, specifically a morphological gap. Other unpaired words were never part of a pair; their starting or ending phonemes, by accident, happen to match those of an existing morpheme, leading to a reinterpretation.

The classification of a word as "unpaired" can be problematic, as a word thought to be unattested might reappear in real-world usage or be created, for example, through humorous back-formation. In some cases a paired word does exist, but is quite rare or archaic (no longer in general use).

Such words – and particularly the back-formations, used as nonce words – find occasional use in wordplay, particularly light verse. There are a handful of notable examples in modern English.

In English[edit]

Word Paired word(s) Notes
Disambiguate Ambiguate[a] Not attested; derived from dis- + ambigu(ous) + -ate in the mid-20th century
Discomfit Comfit Not an antonym; derived from Old French confit, from Latin confectum: "something put together"; literally, a candy comprising a sugar-coated nut or fruit. "Discomfit" probably includes some conflation with "discomfort."
Disgruntled Gruntled[b] Conscious jocular back-formation, circa 1938
Disgusting Gusting From Latin gustāre meaning to taste; antonym form appeared in Old French desgouster
Disheveled, Dishevelled Sheveled,[a] Shevelled[a] Not attested; from the Old French deschevelé
Feckless Feckful Rarely used antonym
Gormless (from gaumless) Gaumy Form, gormful, does not exist; form, gaumy, is rare and highly region-specific
Incorrigible Corrigible Rarely used. It typically describes something abstract, such as a theory, rather than a person.
Indomitable Domitable Rarely used antonym
Ineffable Effable Rarely used antonym
Inert Ert[a] From Latin iners, meaning without skill.
Inflammable Flammable Actually a synonym, both meaning "easily caught on fire" (most common antonym is nonflammable--base word for the former is actually inflame).
Intrepid Trepid Rarely used antonym (form trepidatious, with redundant adjective ending, is uncommon but less rare)
Innocent Nocent Not an exact antonym; rarely used
Innocuous Nocuous Rarely used antonym (almost entirely replaced by descendant noxious)
Nonchalant Chalant
Nonplussed Plussed[b]
Nonsensical Sensical
Overwhelmed Whelmed From Middle English, whelmen meaning to turn over[2].
Postpone Prepone Only used in Indian English
Reckless Reckful Reck (n) meaning care is archaic
Ruthless Ruthful Rarely used antonym
Uncouth Couth[b] From Old English cunnan meaning well-known or familiar; rarely used
Underwhelmed Whelmed Same paired word as "overwhelmed."
Ungainly Gainly Rarely used antonym
Unkempt Kempt Rarely used antonym (replaced by passive participle combed as comb replaced kemb; meaning of combed did not undergo homologous extension to cover grooming and hygiene generally)
Unruly Ruly Rarely used antonym
Unscathed Scathed Rarely used antonym
Unstinting Stinting Rarely used antonym
Untoward Toward Not an antonym (untoward evolved from figurative alterations of toward involving deviation from norms; toward acquired no homologous figurative meanings)
Unwieldy Wieldy Rarely used antonym
  1. ^ a b c d Words not attested or very rare in English usage.
  2. ^ a b c Jocular or facetious coinages as intentional back-formation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mind Your Words Master the Art of Learning and Teaching Vocabulary. Injeeli, Prudent. Trafford on Demand Pub. 2013. ISBN 978-1-4669-9131-6. OCLC 850242046.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=id&id=MED52466

External links[edit]