Is it possible to say "A is tantamount to B" where B is not a negative thing?

Can "is tantamount to" be used with neutral or positive things, as a perfect synonym of "is equivalent to"? Or is it incorrect / awkward?

  • Have you looked in any dictionaries? Please include details of your research, and what you don't understand about what you found. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 9:23
  • Some dictionary definitions say that "tantamount" is for negative things, while others do not. Most example sentences that I found refer to negative things, but a small number of them also refer to neutral/positive things.
    – user163195
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 9:28
  • Dictionaries do not always agree, and Cambridge is a sufficiently reputable reference source to support a positive or neutral usage. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 10:13

1 Answer 1


Cambridge Dictionary says that 'tantamount' means:

being almost the same OR having the same effect as something, usually something bad.

This conveys the following information:

Tantamount can mean nearly the same as something (not just exactly the same)

Tantamount can mean 'having the same effect' as something.

Tantamount is most often used negatively, but does not have to be always used negatively.

Tantamount (Cambridge Dictionary)

Merriam-Webster gives this meaning:

equivalent in value, significance, or effect

That dictionary gives this positive or neutral example:

a relationship tantamount to marriage

Collins Dictionary gives this meaning, which is unequivocally negative:

If you say that one thing is tantamount to a second, more serious thing, you are emphasizing how bad, unacceptable, or unfortunate the first thing is by comparing it to the second.

Longman gives this positive example

For campaign strategists, this was tantamount to spinning straw into gold.

Grammarist gives a neutral example:

we could say that a pitcher of beer is tantamount to a six-pack.

Psychology Today (neutral/positive):

While optimism is not tantamount to happiness, optimists and the very happy both have strong social networks.

Summary: You can use 'tantamount' positively, neutrally, or negatively (there is sufficient support), but be prepared to defend a positive or neutral usage if it is criticised by people who have only looked in one dictionary, or who are convinced of it only having a negative implication

  • 1
    Thank you for the detailed answer. I am not a linguist so I will not have to defend the positive or neutral usage by mentioning dictionary definitions to other linguists or students. What worries me is whether my native readers will find the usage awkward or wrong.
    – user163195
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 10:29
  • @goalie - you cannot ensure that none of your readers will be ignorant or opinionated. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 11:16
  • @goalie - I live with my girlfriend, in a house we own together. We have been together for 30 years, and we love each other. That is tantamount to being married, and, believe me, it is a very positive thing. Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 13:40
  • @goalie I'm a native speaker, and I find all neutral and positive uses of "tantamount" to be awkward and wrong.
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:08
  • 1
    Who said (or sang) 'How can it be wrong if it feels so right'? Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 20:50

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