What Is A Synonym?

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as another word. Synonyms can be two or more words, or even complete expressions, in the same language. While they may have other meanings, at least two of their meanings are similar or identical.

For example, the word “walk” has synonyms like “stroll,” “amble,” “saunter,” or “go.”. These words have an identical meaning to the word “walk.”

Words that are similar but not identical are called near synonyms. Near synonyms move away from its original meaning of the original word. “Walk” does not quite mean the same thing as “skip,” “hike,” “trek,” “plod,” or “trudge.” The nuance, or very slight difference, in words adds to mood and author’s purpose.

Think of the different moods these sentences evoke:

  • The little boy skipped down the lane, licking his lollipop.
  • The brave woman trekked across the mountain range carrying the medicine, a hero’s journey.
  • Just before dawn, the old man trudged down the muddy road to his factory job.
  • The loving couple sauntered hand in hand through the quiet park.

In each case, we could replace the verb with “walked,” but the sentence's energy and mood would be lost.

Some words have opposite meanings of other words. These are called antonyms.

Synonyms Examples

Examples of synonyms in English are easy to find. Use online resources, a printed thesaurus, or your own reader’s log.

English has over a million words. We typically use about 170,000 in modern communications. Almost every word has a synonym or near synonym.

With so many words out there, you will have little trouble finding synonyms. These are examples for some of the most common words in the English language and the synonym list:

Synonyms List
Word Synonyms
Man male, guy, gentleman, fellow, dude, brother, father, son
Woman female, gal, lady, mother, sister, daughter, girl
Child baby, infant, juvenile, kid, minor, toddler, teen, preteen, youth, youngster
Problem complication, dilemma, dispute, obstacle, trouble, issue
Number figure, sum, statistic
Look consider, glance, notice, peer, read, see, stare
Make cause, compose, form, shape, generate, prepare, manufacture, produce
Know appreciate, learn, have, notice, perceive, see, recognize, realize

The synonyms list for each of the different words allows you to build unique sentences in your writing. These synonyms all have a similar meaning to the original word.

Do All Words Have Synonyms?

Not every word or phrase has a synonym. Words that are simple and have obvious word origins are often called primitives, and they generally have synonyms. Technical and scientific words are often unique:

  • Anemometer
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Pyroclastic
  • Sphygmomanometer

Still, some primitives have no synonyms. You would be hard-pressed to replace monosyllabic words like “the,” and “be,” or polysyllabic words like “demonstrable” with synonyms.

How To Find Synonyms

The best tool for finding organized lists of synonyms is a thesaurus, a specialized reference book (or online site) that lists words by synonyms, related words, and related concepts.

A dictionary gives the word’s meaning; a thesaurus lists synonyms and near synonyms for all forms of a word (verb, noun, phrase).

For example, the Merriam-Webster English dictionary might define “miserly” this way:

  • Of, relating to, or characteristic of a miser; marked by grasping meanness and penuriousness

A thesaurus will give these synonyms of “miserly:”

  • cheap, chintzy, close, closefisted, mean, mingy, parsimonious, penny-pinching, penurious, pinching, pinchpenny, spare, sparing, stingy, stinting, tight, tightfisted, uncharitable, and ungenerous

By reading both the definition and the synonyms, you have a much better understanding of the full meaning and nuance of “miserly:”

A great way to find synonyms is by keeping a reading log as you read a book. Write into the log any new word you encounter. Then look up the word’s meaning in a dictionary to understand the author’s intent.

Follow up by looking up synonyms for the word. You will broaden your grasp of language and the author's purpose by doing this.

Multiple Meanings and Synonyms

Two words can have the same meaning, but one word can have multiple different meanings. Two words with the same spelling and punctuation but different meanings are called homonyms or homophones.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the English word “set” has the most meanings in English; at 430 distinct definitions.

Among those 430 meanings, some senses of “set” will have synonyms, and some will not.

First, decide which form of the word you seek a synonym for; noun, verb, adjective, phrase, etc. Then decide which meaning you intend:

  • Set as a transitive verb: to place with great care or purpose (“She set down the antique vase.”) or to cause the start of (“The little boy set a fire in the field.”)
  • Set as a noun: a number of things of the same kind or that belong together (“He wanted a model train set.”), or the background and designs of a stage show (“The set behind the actors was beautifully designed and painted.”)
  • Set as an adjective: reluctant to change (“The old woman is set in her ways.”) or fixed by authority or agreement (“The royal wedding date is set.”)

For the particular word form and meaning (its connotation), you can then search for synonyms and near synonyms of only that meaning:

“The little boy lit a fire in the field.”

“The scenery behind the actors was beautifully designed and painted.”

“The old woman is fixed in her ways.”

These example sentences show that using a synonym for “set” as a noun in a sentence where it is an adjective could lead to unintentional weirdness:

“The old woman is scenery in her ways.”

Thoroughly understand the use of the original word before deploying a synonym in your writing.

Why Would You Use Synonyms In Your Writing?

You use synonyms in your writing to avoid repeating the same word too many times in passages unless the word is so basic it usually is not noticed. Such words as “said,” “be,” “a,” “the,” and “I” do not need synonyms because most readers move right through them.

Using synonyms keeps your text engaging and helps avoid monotony.

When using synonyms, be sure to match the connotation of your synonym to the writing style. For example, flowery and emotionally charged words are not appropriate for academic papers or written instructions. Complex, cold or technical words are not appropriate for casual or friendly writing.

The word “man” could easily grow tiresome in a passage like this:

  • “The wiser man offered to help the younger man as they set about cleaning out the cheap old man’s shabby old house. The younger man took down the old man’s books from the shelves, while the huskier man boxed up the meager pots and pans.”

We can liven up the writing just by using synonyms for “man” like this:

  • “The wiser gentleman offered to help the brash youth as they set about cleaning out the miser’s shabby old house. The teen took down the recluse’s books from the shelves, while the huskier guy boxed up the meager pots and pans.”

Another way to liven up your writing is through the use of a metonym. A metonym is a scientific name for a word, name, or expression that is more general or loosely related to something else. For example, “The Big Apple” is a metonym or alternative name for New York City.

What you learned:

After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:

  • The definition of synonym and near synonyms
  • Examples of synonyms
  • How to find synonyms
  • Why and how to use synonyms in your writing
Instructor: Malcolm M.
Malcolm has a Master's Degree in education and holds four teaching certificates. He has been a public school teacher for 27 years, including 15 years as a mathematics teacher.

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