Sunday, October 26, 2008

Composite Opposites in Japanese (反対熟語)

Here's a list of 反対熟語 (i.e., 2-character Japanese words that are composed of pairs of opposites). I started compiling the list about 6 months ago just because I thought it was an interesting aspect of the language; I'm guessing that a lot of them came about at the time Buddhist precepts of morality & existence were spreading throughout Asia.

I haven't seen a similar list on-line, so I thought the list could be interesting/useful to someone who is, like me, trying to learn Japanese. I tried to group them as best as I could.

Not all of them are in current use in conversational Japanese, so use with caution.

If anyone knows of any others, let me know and I'll add it to the list!

細大 【さいだい】 (n) great and small; in detail; all

巨細 【きょさい; こさい】 (adj-na,n) large and small matters; particulars; details; greatness and smallness; circumstances

高低 【こうてい(P); たかひく】 (n,vs) high and low; rise and fall

昇降 【しょうこう】 (n,vs) ascending and descending; going up and down

軒輊 【けんち】 (n,vs) high and low; disparity

尊卑 【そんぴ】 (n) high and low; aristocrat and plebeian

公私 【こうし】 (n,adj-no) public and private; official and personal; government and people

官民 【かんみん】 (n) government and citizens; public and private

士庶 【ししょ】 (n) (1) samurai and commoners; (2) normal people (as opposed to people of a high social standing)

貧富 【ひんぷ】 (n) wealth and poverty; rich and poor

貴賤; 貴賎 【きせん】 (n) high and low; all ranks

天地 【てんち(P); あめつち】 (n) (1) heaven and earth; the universe; nature; top and bottom; realm; sphere; world; (2) (てんち only) top and bottom; (3) (あめつち only) gods of heaven and earth

上下 【しょうか】 (n,vs) high and low; the government and the people; going up and down

上下 【うえした】 (n) high and low; up and down; unloading and loading; praising and blaming

上下左右 【じょうげさゆう】 (n) up and down (top and bottom), left and right

左右 【さゆう】 (n,vs) (1) left and right; (2) influence; control; domination

正逆 【せいぎゃく】 (adj-pn) forward and reverse

縦横 【じゅうおう(P); たてよこ(P)】 (n) length and width; every direction; warp and woof; right and left; vertically and horizontally; length and breadth

屈伸 【くっしん】 (n,vs) elasticity (lit. "bend and stretch")

内外 【ないがい(P); うちそと】 (n) inside and outside; domestic and foreign; approximately; interior and exterior

賛否 【さんぴ】 (n) yes and no; for and against; pros and cons; agreement and disagreement

無有 【むう】 (n) nonexistence or existence; absence or presence

有無 【うむ(P); ゆうむ】 (n) (1) existence or nonexistence; presence or absence; (2) consent or refusal; yes or no; (n) (3) {comp} flag indicator; presence or absence marker

成否 【せいひ】 (n) success or failure; outcome; result

進退 【しんたい】 (n,vs) movement; course of action; advance or retreat

勝敗 【しょうはい】 (n) victory or defeat; issue (of battle)

和戦 【わせん】 (n) war and peace; peace

文武 【ぶんぶ】 (n) literary and military arts; the pen and the sword

治乱 【ちらん】 (n) in peacetime and in wartime; order and disorder

興亡 【こうぼう】 (n) rise and fall; ups and downs

盛衰 【せいすい】 (n) rise and fall; ups and downs; welfare; vicissitudes (lit. "prosperity and decline")

吉凶 【きっきょう】 (n) fortune; good and bad luck

禍福 【かふく】 (n) weal and woe

消長 【しょうちょう】 (n,vs) prosperity and decay; rise and fall; ups and downs; ebb and flow; waxing and waning

栄枯 【えいこ】 (n) vicissitudes; ups and downs; feast or famine (lit. "prosperity & drought")

繁閑 【はんかん】 (n) press and slack of business

心身 【しんしん】 (n) mind and body

肝胆 【かんたん】 (n) one's inner being (lit. "liver and gall bladder")

音容 【おんよう】 (n) visage; voice and countenance

巧拙 【こうせつ】 (n) tact; skill; workmanship (lit. "adroit and clumsy")

強弱 【きょうじゃく】 (n) strength; power (lit. "strong & weak")

優劣 【ゆうれつ】 (n) (relative) merits; superiority or inferiority; quality

剛臆 【ごうおく】 (n) bravery and cowardice

収支 【しゅうし】 (n) income and expenditure

勝負 【しょうぶ】 (n,vs) victory or defeat; match; contest; game; bout

売買 【ばいばい】 (n,vs) trade; buying and selling

損益 【そんえき】 (n) profit and loss; advantage and disadvantage

得失 【とくしつ】 (n) advantages and disadvantages; plus and minuses

是非 【ぜひ】 (adv,n) (1) (uk) certainly; without fail; (2) right and wrong; pros and cons

正邪 【せいじゃ】 (n) right and wrong

順逆 【じゅんぎゃく】 (n) right and wrong; loyalty and treason; obedience and disobedience

長短 【ちょうたん】 (n) (1) length; (2) long and short; advantages and disadvantages; pluses and minuses; strong and weak points; merits and demerits

功過 【こうか】 (n) merits and demerits (lit. "success/achievement and error")

功罪 【こうざい】 (n) both good and bad; merits and demerits (lit. "success/achievement and fault")

神髄(P)【しんずい】 (n) true meaning; mystery; essence; quintessence; soul; core; kernel; life blood (lit. "mind and marrow")

業因 【ごういん】 (n) karma (lit. "effect and cause")

因果 【いんが】 (adj-na,n) cause and effect; karma; fate

恩讐; 恩讎 【おんしゅう】 (n) love and hate

愛憎 【あいぞう】 (adj-na,n) love and hate; likes and dislikes

寒暖 【かんだん】 (n) heat and cold; (extremes of) temperature

虚実 【きょじつ】 (n) truth or falsehood; fact or fiction

NB: 虚々実々; 虚虚実実 【きょきょじつじつ】 (n,adj-no) full of wiles and tricks; match between persons equal in shrewdness mobilizing all the tricks each can muster; shrewdly avoiding the opponent's strong points and attacking its weaknesses

問答 【もんどう】 (n,vs) questions and answers; dialogue

難易 【なんい】 (n) difficulty; relative difficulty (lit. "difficulty and ease")

対比 【たいひ】 (n,vs) contrast & comparison

矛盾 【むじゅん】 (n,vs) contradiction; inconsistency (lit. "sword & shield")

葛藤 【かっとう】 (n,vs) conflict; complication; troubles; discord (lit. "kudzu & wisteria")

前後 【ぜんご】 (n-adv,suf) around; throughout; front and back; before and behind; before and after; about that (time); longitudinal; context; nearly; approximately

昼夜 【ちゅうや】 (adv,n) day and night;

自他 【じた】 (n) (1) oneself and others; (2) transitive and intransitive

安否 【あんぴ】 (n) safety; welfare; well-being

凹凸 【おうとつ】 (n) unevenness; roughness; ruggedness

首尾 【しゅび】 (n,vs) issue; course of events; beginning and end (lit. "head (to) tail")

起結 【きけつ】 (n) beginning and end

始終 【しじゅう】 (adv,n) continuously; from beginning to end; from first to last

終始 【しゅうし】 (n,vs) (1) beginning and end; from beginning to end; doing a thing from beginning to end

始末 【しまつ】 (n,vs) (1) management; dealing; settlement; (2) cleaning up; getting rid of; (n) (3) end result (usu. bad)

死活 【しかつ】 (n,vs) life and-or death

存亡 【そんぼう】 (n) life or death; existence; destiny

死命 【しめい】 (n) fate; life or death

存否 【ぞんぴ; そんぴ】 (n) (whether) existent or non-existent; life or death

生涯 【しょうがい】 (n-adv,n-t) one's lifetime (i.e. one's existence until death) (lit. "birth & opposite shore")

活殺 【かっさつ】 (n) life or death

生死 【せいし(P); しょうし; しょうじ】 (n) (1) life and death; (2) (しょうじ, しょうし only) {Buddh} samsara (cycle of death and rebirth); (3) (しょうじ, しょうし only) death

順逆 【じゅんぎゃく】 (n) right and wrong; loyalty and treason; obedience and disobedience

正負 【せいふ】 (n) positive and negative; +-; plus and minus; correct and incorrect

加減 【かげん】 (n,adj-na) (1) addition and subtraction; (2) allowance for; (3) degree; extent; measure; (4) condition; state of health; (5) seasoning; flavor; flavour; moderation; adjustment; (6) influence (of the weather); (7) chance

多少 【たしょう】 (adj-no,adv,n) more or less; somewhat; a little; some

馬鹿(P) 【ばか(P); バカ】 (adj-na,n) fool; idiot; trivial matter; folly (lit. "horse and deer") (?)

狐狸 【こり】 (n) foxes and badgers; sly fellow

烏鷺 【うろ】 (n) (1) crows and herons; (2) black and white; (3) stark difference

雲泥 【うんでい】 (n) great difference (lit. "cloud and mud")

相違 【そうい】 (n,vs) difference; discrepancy; variation

緇素 【しそ】 (n) old term for Buddhist priesthood and the laity (since they used to wear black and white clothing respectively)

善悪 【ぜんあく】 (n) good and evil

白黒 【しろくろ】 (n,adj-no) (1) black and white; monochrome; (exp,vs) (2) good and evil; right and wrong; guilt and innocence

黒白 【くろしろ(P); こくはく; こくびゃく】 (n) black and white; right and wrong

知徳 【ちとく】 (n) knowledge and virtue

陰陽 【いんよう(P); おんみょう; おんよう】 (n) cosmic dual forces; yin and yang; sun and moon

明暗 【めいあん】 (n) light and darkness; light and shade

光陰 【こういん】 (n) time; Father Time (lit. "light & shadow")

甘苦 【かんく】 (n) sweetness and bitterness; joys and sorrows

苦楽 【くらく】 (n) pleasure and pain; joys and sorrows

悲喜 【ひき】 (n) joys and sorrows

古今 【ここん】 (n) ancient and modern times; all ages; past and present

東西 【とうざい】 (n) (1) East and West; (2) whole country; (3) Orient and Occident; Western and Eastern; (4) Your attention, please!

新旧 【しんきゅう】 (n) new and old; incoming and outgoing

老若 【ろうにゃく(P); ろうじゃく(P)】 (n,adj-na) young and old; all ages

老少 【ろうしょう】 (n) young and old

男女 【だんじょ】 (n) man and woman; men and women

師弟 【してい】 (n) teacher and student

父母 【ふぼ(P); ちちはは】 (n) father and mother; parents

兄弟 【きょうだい(P); けいてい】 (n) siblings; brothers and sisters (lit. "older and younger brothers")

姉妹 【しまい(P); きょうだい(ik)】 (n) sisters (lit. "older and younger sisters")

翰墨 【かんぼく】 (n) brush and ink; writing; drawing

詩文 【しぶん】 (n) poetry and prose; literary works

抑揚 【よくよう】 (n) intonation; accent; modulation; inflection (lit. "press & raise")

紐帯 【ちゅうたい】 (n) important connection; important social foundation; tight relationship (lit. "obi and cord")

漫才(P) 【まんざい】 (n) comedian; comic dialogue (lit. "slow/rambling & genius")

聴視 【ちょうし】 (n,vs) attentiveness (lit. "listening and watching")

瓦礫 【がれき】 (n) rubble (lit. "tiles and pebbles")

山川 【さんせん(P); やまかわ】 (n) mountains and rivers

飲食 【いんしょく】 (n,vs) food and drink; eating and drinking

酒食 【しゅしょく】(n) food and drink

衣食 【いしょく】 (n) (1) food and clothing; livelihood; living; (vs) (2) to feed and clothe (ed. ok, technically not an opposite, but sort of the same idea...)

衣糧 【いりょう】 (n) food and clothing

経緯 【けいい(P); いきさつ】 (n,vs) (1) details; whole story; sequence of events; particulars; how it started; how things got this way; (2) complications; position (lit. "longitude and latitude")

n Honorable mention (the と knocks it out of the running):

月と鼈; 月とすっぽん 【つきとすっぽん】 (exp) like the difference between heaven and hell (lit. "moon & snapping turtle")

n OK, this doesn't belong on the list, but I like it anyway:

兎角亀毛 【とかくきもう】 (exp) (obsc) {Buddh} horns on rabbits and fur on turtles (used as a metaphor for things that do not exist)


  1. Love the list!
    Yoku dekimashita ☺

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