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:
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.
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:
|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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
We can liven up the writing just by using synonyms for “man” like this:
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.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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