A privative is a term which denotes the absence of something. For example, loneliness is the absence of friends, or companionship.

In the context of the physical world, most of the terms which we consider opposites are really privatives. So, dark is not the opposite of light, it's the absence of of photons. Cold is not the opposite of warm, it's the absence of heat energy. And so on.

In the abstract human world these distinctions can become more complicated, as the concepts diverge more and more from the physical and into the semantic realm. In other words, if humanity can make up a concept, it can just as easily make up another and decide that they are opposites.

Priv"a*tive (?) a. [L. privativus: cf. F. privatif. See Private.]

1.

Causing privation; depriving.

2.

Consisting in the absence of something; not positive; negative.

Privative blessings, blessings of immunity, safeguard, liberty, and integrity. Jer. Taylor.

3. Gram.

Implying privation or negation; giving a negative force to a word; as, alpha privative; privative particles; -- applied to such prefixes and suffixes as a- (Gr. ), un-, non-, -less.

 

© Webster 1913.


Priv"a*tive, n.

1.

That of which the essence is the absence of something.

Blackness and darkness are indeed but privatives. Bacon.

2. Logic

A term indicating the absence of any quality which might be naturally or rationally expected; -- called also privative term.

3. Gram.

A privative prefix or suffix. See Privative, a., 3.

 

© Webster 1913.

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