Opposites

Many positive words, which are used to describe character, have clear opposites with a negative meaning.

PositiveNegative
warm and friendlycold and unfriendly
kindunkind
nicehorrible, unpleasant
generous (= happy to give/share)mean (= never gives to others)
optimistic (= thinks positively)pessimistic (= thinks negatively)
cheerful (= happy and smiling)miserable (= always seems unhappy)
relaxed and easy-goingtense (= nervous; worries a lot; not calm)
strongweak
sensitiveinsensitive (= does not think about others’ feelings)
honest (= always tells the truth)dishonest

Jane is very tense at the moment because of her exams, but she’s usually quite relaxed and easy-going about most things.

I think the weather influences me a lot: when its sunny I feel more cheerful and optimistic; but when it’s cold and raining I get very miserable.

He seemed a bit unfriendly at first, but now I’ve got to know him I realise he’s very warm and kind.

The shop assistant told me that the dress I tried on looked better on people younger than me. I thought that was very insensitive of her, but at least she was being honest, I suppose.

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Character in action

People often talk about qualities of character that you may need in a work situation. Again, some of these words come in pairs of opposites: one positive and one negative.

PositiveNegative
hard-workinglazy (= never does any work)
punctual (=always on time)not very punctual; always late
reliableunreliable (= you cannot trust / depend on someone like this)
clever, brightstupid, thick
flexibleinflexible (= a very fixed way of thinking; unable to change)
ambitiousunambitious no desire to be successful and get a better job)

To describe character, you should know that some pairs of opposites do not have a particularly positive or negative meaning:

He is very shy when you first meet him because he finds it difficult to talk to people and make conversation; but when he knows people quite well he’s much more self-confident.

People often say the British are very reserved (= do not show their feelings), but when you get to know them they can be very emotional like anyone else.

Using nouns

Some important qualities are expressed through nouns.

One of her great qualities is that she uses her initiative. (= she can think for herself and take the necessary action; she does not need to wait for orders all the time)

That boy has got no common sense (= he does stupid things and doesn’t think what he is doing). His sister, on the other hand, is very sensible. (= has lots of common sense)

You can see a similar lesson about how to describe people’s appearances.

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