Question Type 16: Opposite Words

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

This type of question favours students with great vocabularies, and requires less reasoning than many of the others. As such, this should be an easy section for avid readers, but require more preparation by others. 

What does this question type involve?

In this type of question you will be given two groups of words. Each group of words is in a bracket. From each group, you must select the two words with the most opposite meaning. To use the correct term, that means that you must find the antonyms each time. As such, these questions can be done quickly if you practise and work on your vocabulary.

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Example questions

(after, thus, although) (negative, still, before)

Answer: After, before
After and before are antonyms. None of the other words are antonyms of each other.

(blue, steep, ancient) (new, sharp, teal)

Answer: ancient, new
Ancient and new are antonyms of one another – something ancient cannot be new. None of the other words are opposites of one another. Note that ‘teal’ is similar to blue, not opposite to it.

A Simple 3 Step Approach to Antonym Questions

This question type should be addressed using a simple format, as it relies heavily on your vocabulary rather than on your ability to follow a process. As such, we recommend that you follow a simple 3 step process, as follows:

Step 1: Process each word from the first bracket
Step 2: Compare the words to each word from the second bracket
Step 3: Select the pair

Begin by reading each word in the first bracket. You must consider each in turn, and do your best to give yourself time to digest the word and understand its meaning. This will make comparing each word to the words in the second bracket easier. Do not try to read all six words at once – this could be less efficient than reading the first three, then comparing them one by one. When you have considered each of the words in the first bracket, move onto the second. It’s likely that you’ll be able to select two of the three words as being more suitable – e.g. ‘big’ and ‘old’ will be easier to find an antonym for than ‘trousers’ which has no real opposite.

Your goal here is to find a word that is the clear antonym of one of the words in the first bracket. Think about each word in turn and see if it is the opposite of one. If not, then you need to work back through each word in turn – as you now ought to have had the time to process all of the six words.

When you’ve found the pair, double check it – make sure they are opposites rather than synonyms, for example – then write or select them.

Worked Example

(wealthy, magnificent, emerald) (far, smaller, poor)

We begin by looking at each of the words in the first bracket. Wealthy means rich – someone that has plenty of money. Magnificent means very impressive or beautiful. Lastly, emerald means either a precious stone or a very bright green. We should therefore consider that either ‘magnificent’ or ‘wealthy’ are the most likely to have an antonym in the other bracket. Let’s now look at the other bracket and consider which word works.

‘Far’ doesn’t seem to be the antonym of either word, so we should therefore move onto ‘smaller.’ Whilst this is the right kind of word to look out for, in this instance it isn’t correct. However, the last word, ‘poor,’ is the clear antonym of the word ‘wealthy.’ We therefore select these two words. Now, double check back through all the options quickly – and we find that we have made the right selection.

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Top Tricks

Focus on the kinds of words that can easily be compared. These will typically be adjectives. Look for variations on adjectives too, like ‘taller’ which end in -er. These too will often be good selections to consider first.

Common Pitfalls

The most common pitfall is spending too long on questions that you don’t know the answer to. If you don’t have the vocabulary for a question, then you need to know when to move on – you can check through to see which options do not work, and use that to select your answer. After that, you should move on.


In summary, this question type relies heavily on your vocabulary, and requires only a simple approach. If you practise spotting antonyms and develop your vocabulary, then you should find this straightforward.
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