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English Synonyms Page

From an ELT/TEFL/TESL perspective


 

 

Foreword

One of the best ways to improve your "word power" is to know the special meanings, nuances and differences in USAGES of English synonyms.

Firstly, you need to know what "hypernomy" or "hypernymy" means...

hyper (above) + nomy (name)

Hypernomy is the condition of being inclusive of all other synonymy of a given set of synonyms.

Hypernym is the word which includes the meanings of all the other synonyms.

Like this:

 In the diagram above, the word "look" is a hypernym, and the diagram illustrates the hypernomic condition of "look".

 

 

Table of Contents

(I'm sorry, but these are not in any specific order,

 except in the order that they appear on this page)

1.  speak, talk, say, tell, mention, discuss, converse, comment
2.  argue, debate
3.  hear, listen, comprehend
4.  boat, ship, sail boat, yacht, motor boat, ferry, row boat, canoe, kayak, raft
5.  look, watch, see, stare, behold, view, peek, peep, peer, glare, glaze, glance, ogle, goggle
6.  school, academy, institute, college, university
7.  walk, saunter, strut, stroll, hobble, limp, stumble, stagger, ambulate, shuffle
8.  ghost, phantom, spirit, soul, apparition, specter, sprite, banshee, disembodied spirit, un-embodied spirit, devil, Devil, demon, Satan, Lucifer, angel, Holy Ghost, ghoul, goblin, zombie
9.  effective & efficient
10.  job, profession, vocation, occupation
11.  holiday, vacation
12.  electric, electrical, electronic
13.  excrement, feces, stool, crap, shit, defecation, manure
14.  accept, receive, take
15.  include, contain, have
16.  be made of, be made from, be composed of, consist of
17.  land, territory, earth, ground, soil, dirt
18.  beach, shore, coast, ~side, bank
19.  wide, broad, vast, huge
20.  had better / have to & must / ought to & should
21.  home, house, housing, abode, domicile, dwelling, dormitory, barracks
22.  attire, apparel, clothes, clothing, garment, vestiture, wear
23.  kinds of attire
24.  faculty and staff
25.  folktale, folklore, legend, myth
- END -
You will need to scroll down for contents.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

 

Abbreviations Used Below:

v. = verb
v.t. = verb transitive (needs an object)
v.i. = verb intransitive (doesn't use an object)

 

Speak, Talk, Say, Tell, Mention, Discuss, Converse, Comment

 

Speak

  (v.i., v.t.)

Speak has two usages [Speak comes from the noun speech which also has two usages]:

1.  Speech1 = the ability to produce the SOUNDS of words and sentences accurately;  This is related to "Speak" v.i.  AND "Speak" v.t., where the direct object is a language.

Examples:  (i) He speaks well.  (ii) He speaks poorly.
          (iii) He has a speech impediment.  (iv)  He speaks English well.  (v)  I speak Chinese poorly.

2.  Speech2 = an oral composition, presented in front of an audience;  This is related to "Speak" v.t. where the direct object is an audience (it looks like an indirect object, but it's not, usually).

Examples:  (i) Pres. Bush spoke to the troops in Korea.  (ii) Pres. Bush gave a speech to the troops in Korea.

Note:  it is possible to use a direct object and an indirect object, but it is not common.

Examples:  (i)  I spoke English to my students.  [but in this case "spoke" has the number 1 meaning only].

If you say, "I spoke in English to my students"  "spoke" has the number two meaning, and there is only one object, because "in English" is an adverbial phrase.

 

Talk (v.i., v.t.) Talk means 'have a conversation'.  It's that simple.

Examples:  (i) I talk.  (ii) I talk with you.  (iii) We talk about the price of tea in China.

 

Say (v.t.) Say is a confusing word.  In all my life growing up in the states, moving around from California to West Virginia, I had NEVER heard ANY native English speaker put the indirect object before the direct object (with the ONE exception of reflexive pronoun object) and I taught my students in Korea thusly.  Then, about a year ago, I went to the UK for a couple months, and I heard a UK citizen (apparently a native English speaker) use the indirect object first.  I was so embarrassed.  Now, I teach my students that in the UK it is not uncommon to hear the indirect object first, but if one goes to America and uses the indirect object first, the Americans will hear it as an awkward expression of a non-native speaker.

direct object:  something (sth)

indirect object:  (to) somebody (sb)

American style:  say + sth + to + sb

Example:  I said "I love you" to my son.

in the UK, I would seem that the direct object and indirect object are interchangeable, but the indirect object must have "to" before it.

 

Tell (v.t.) In the case of "tell", the direct object and indirect object are the opposite of "say".

direct object:  sb

indirect object:  (about) sth

Example:  I told him about the party.

Note:  the indirect object is optional, AND IT IS INCORRECT TO SWITCH THE ORDER OF DIRECT AND INDIRECT OBJECT.

There are a few idiomatic expressions which break the rule I gave above:

For example:  (i) Tell a story.  (ii) Tell a joke.

In those cases, the direct object has been omitted, when it is commonly known "who" the direct object is.

Example of full sentence:  Tell us a story.

 

Mention (v.t.) Mention means to reveal some information briefly.
Discuss (v.t.) Discuss means to have a conversation on a specific topic
Converse Same as "talk"
Comment Usually comment on sth already said
 

 

Argue & Debate

 
Argue Argue means to have a verbal fight

v.i. : Don't argue with me.

v.t. : Why argue about politics?  Nobody wins.

Debate Debate means to have a formal verbal competition with rules and a judge, and a winner and a loser. [forgive my many "and"s].

v.i. : I like to debate.

v.t. : Let's debate about politics.


Hear, Listen, Comprehend

 

Hear Hear denotes ability to perceive sound;  in other words, it means having a fully-functional auditory nervous system.
Listen Listen denotes hearing + trying to comprehend what is being said
Comprehend Comprehend denotes understanding input;

Listen and Comprehend, or  Read and Comprehend

 

 

Boats
ship, sail boat, yacht, motor boat, ferry, row boat, canoe, kayak, raft

 
boat general term for all items below
ship an very large commercial boat or military boat
sail boat a boat with a cloth/canvas for a sail
yacht a recreational sail boat or motor boat
motor boat a relatively small privately owned boat with a motor engine
ferry a boat for transporting people or vehicles from point A to point B and back
row boat a small boat with oars for rowing
canoe a small, long, two-person boat (American Aborigine word)
kayak a small, one-person boat (Eskimo word)
raft a small boat, generally for life-saving or rescue

 

Look
Watch, See, Stare, Behold, View, Peek, Peep, Peer, Glare, Glaze, Glance, Ogle, Goggle, 

 
look general usage, hypernomy or hypernymy of all words below; requires the preposition "at" before the object
watch look at something that moves

We say, "Watch TV" because the picture portrayed by the TV moves.  If you want to see the TV, and NOT the picture portrayed by the TV, use "look at".

We say, "Watch a person" because people move.

It would be incorrect to say, "Watch a plant", unless it is a moving plant.  You could say, "Watch(ed) the leaves on the trees as they 'dance(d)' in the wind" because the leaves are moving.

see "see" generally denotes visual perception, i.e., the ability to take input in the form of LIGHT into the brain via the optic nerve.

Example:  "I can see the dog.  Can't you?"

It Can be used as a command.  Example:

"See the dog run."  But this usage is archaic.

BUT, there are several idioms with the word "SEE"...

1.  I see.

"I see" means "I understand", or "I am enlightened by your words".  NOTE:  light = knowledge or understanding, and since light is perceived through the eyes, "I see" has the meaning:  I receive light (or ENLIGHTENMENT).  Also, the expression "to see the light" means: to apprehend truth

2.  see a movie

You could also say, "watch a movie".  I do not know how "see a movie" came to be acceptable speech, but it is.  

behold "behold" means "look", but no preposition is needed.

Example:  I beheld the duck in the pond.

NOTE:  this word is archaic

view look

somewhat formal usage

Example:  "The immigration officer viewed my passport."

Also:  preview [pre (before) + view (look)] and,

 review [re (again) + view (look)]

peek look very briefly at something forbidden to be looked at

Example:  "I peeked at my Christmas present."

peep secretly look (+ at sth)

"Peeping Tom" is a man, who secretly looks at a woman undressing from outside her bedroom window

peer look (+ through sth)
glare angrily look (+ at sth)
glaze casually look (+ over sth)
glance briefly look (+ at sth)
ogle lustfully look (+ at sth)
goggle surprisedly look (+ at sth)

 

School, Academy, Institute, College, University

 
school place of learning;  [hypernomy of all words below (in U.S. ONLY)]

If you want to be specific, you should add an adjective:

1. public/private elementary school
2. public/private middle school or junior high school
3. public/private high school
4. state/private school of higher learning (college or university)

academy usually private school AND often one that teaches 1 subject, e.g., the academy of art.
institute 1. a school of higher learning
Example:  MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

2. a place of extra-curricular learning
Example:  Smithsonian Institute

college "college" is a very general word from Latin collegium "community, society, guild."

If you want to be specific, you should add an adjective:

1.  junior college "J.C."
2.  community college (same as 1)
3.  college of art (in a university)
4.  college of science (in a university)

A "colleague" is usually a person who is in the same academic field AND/OR in the same profession.

university similar to institute1; BUT, a university usually contains various colleges, e.g.:

1.  the university's college of education
2.  the university's college of life science
3.  the university's college of physical science
4.  the university's college of art
5.  the university's college of mathematics
6.  the university's college of humanities
7.  the university's college of engineering
8.  the university's college of behavioral science
etc.

Note:  it is not difficult to comprehend the differences between "college" an "university" if you know the etymology of each word.

"College" means a groups of people interested in the same thing(s)

"Uni" (one) + "versity" (many) = one school with many colleges.

 etymology: the study of the origin of words

walk, saunter, strut, stroll, hobble, limp, stumble, stagger, ambulate, shuffle

 
walk to move on foot (hypernomy or hypernymy of all below)
saunter to walk idly, leisurely
strut to walk proudly
stroll same as saunter
hobble to walk as if one leg is lame
limp same as hobble
stumble to trip
stagger to walk as if drunken or weak
ambulate to go from place to place on foot
shuffle to walk without picking up one's feet

 

ghost, phantom, spirit, soul, apparition, specter, sprite, banshee, disembodied spirit, un-embodied spirit, devil, Devil, demon, Satan, Lucifer, angel, Holy Ghost, ghoul, goblin, zombie

 
ghost [Old English Word] a metaphysical being (hypernomy or hypernym of all below)
phantom [Latinate Word] a ghost that can be seen, but not touched; OR heard, but not seen (but usually the latter, i.e., heard, but NOT SEEN)
spirit [Latinate Word] the breath of life
soul [Old Norse Word] same as spirit; the immortal part of humans
apparition [Latinate Word] something that suddenly appears (usually a ghost)
specter [Latinate Word] a visible disembodied spirit {same root as "spectacle", "spectator"}
sprite [originally, same as spirit] BUT now it means:  elf or fairy
(incidentally, this would be much like the Korean do-ggae-bi, not in physical traits, but rather in all other traits.  Physically, the do-ggae-bi looks like an ogre, and is translated as such, but do-ggae-bis do not harm humans, in fact, they're often thought of as the benefactors of human beings.)
banshee [Gaelic Word] a female spirit in Gaelic folklore that warns a family of the approaching death of a member by her appearance or especially by wailing unseen under the windows of the house a night or two before the time of the death she foretells (Merriam-Webster online Dictionary) {This is most similar to Korean 처녀귀신 (Cheo-nyeo Gui-shin}.
disembodied spirit the spirit of a dead person
unembodied spirit the spirit of an unborn person
devil [Old English Word] an evil spirit
Devil king of the evil spirits
demon [Greek Word] originally: a lower deity (between gods and humans);  now:  a devil that can become incarnate, or take a human body.
Satan [Hebrew Word] name of king of the devils
Lucifer [Latinate Word] means: one who bears light or enlightenment.  It is the Latinate metaphor for Satan, because Satan was a "son of the morning", one of the first of the creations of God. (Judaeo-Christian mythology).  Lucifer is also the one who gave enlightenment to Adam and Eve.
angel [Greek Word] originally: messenger;  now: messenger of God
Holy Ghost the Spirit of God (Judaeo-Christian mythology)
ghoul [Arabic Word] a being that robs graves to feed on the flesh of dead people
goblin an ugly sprite, sometimes evil, sometimes mischievous
zombie [Voodoo Word] (1) the power to make the dead alive again; (2) a dead person that has been brought back to life

 

Effective & Efficient

 
Note:  these are NOT synonyms, but the English-Korean dictionaries say that they have the same meaning.  This is to dispel such nonsense.
Effective producing the desired effect (result) [from the root word "effect" v.t.: to produce or cause sth]

Example:  I wanted to build a bridge.

I built a bridge in ten years.  I was effective.  Why?  Because I accomplished my goal, which was to build a bridge.

Efficient

bilingual dict error

conserving something [from the root word "efface" v.t.: to eliminate or eradicate sth]

Example: I wanted to build a bridge.

I built a bridge by myself in ten years.  It was effective.

Then, I built a bridge in two years with the help of some workers.  It was time-efficient.  But, I had to pay them a lot of money.  It was NOT cost-efficient.  Also, I used wood, which is not as strong as stone or steel, so I had to use a lot of wood to reinforce the bridge.  It was NOT material-efficient.

Then, I built a bridge with migrant workers in two years with steel and concrete.  It was effective, time efficient, cost-efficient, and material-efficient.

Another Example: I want to buy a car that is effective in giving me speed and power AND efficient in conserving fuel and money.

I find out that I cannot have both.  I can get an effective car, but it is not efficient.  Or I can get an efficient car, but it's not very effective.

 

job, profession, vocation, occupation

 
job ...any activity which is compensated with money

full time job = job which works 40 hours per week or more [US]

part time job = job which works less than 40 hours per week [US]

profession ...any job which requires higher education, esp., doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, engineer, scientist, etc.
vocation "Voc" means "voice" in Latin.  "Vocare" means "to voice" (v.t.).  So, "vocation" means something that is done because the "voice" in one's mind directs one to do it.  It usually refers to a job that one feels driven to do by some inner "voice".
occupation ...any activity which occupies one's time.  "To occupy" means "to fill".  So, an occupation is something which fills one's spare time.  (It usually refers to the thing which fills the major part of one's time).
 

 

holiday, vacation
 
holiday 1.  holy day [like Christmas, Easter, Halloween]

2.  a day (or days) off of work/school [chiefly British]

3.  a festival day (sometimes it is a day off, and sometimes it's not) [chiefly American English]

vacation 1.  a day (or days) off of work/school

2.  a trip

examples sb be/go on holiday (#2, British English)

sb be on vacation.  (#1, American English)

sb go on vacation.  (#2, American English)

Today is a holiday. (#2, British, #3, American)

 

electric, electrical, electronic

 
electric (a.)  of, about, relating to electricity

examples:  electric shock, electric power, electric resistance, electric current, electric flow, etc.

electrical (a.)  conveying electricity

examples: electrical wires, electrical components, etc.

electronic (a.)  having a system which is operated by electrical wires and components

examples:  electronic equipment, electronic device, etc.

special note: you can think like this:  the longer the word, the more complex the meaning.  For instance:

Electronic equipment is composed of electrical components, and electrical components convey electric power/current.

 

excrement, feces, stool, crap, shit, defecation, manure, poop, etc.

 
excrement hypernomy (hypernymy) of all below.  Actually, excrement is ex (out) + crete (make go, send) + ment (n.)  So, it includes liquid as well as solid excrement, but herein below, only solid excrement is discussed.
feces scientist's word (always plural)
stool doctor's word (countable [C])
crap French word (uncountable [U])
shit English slang (click here for more info) [U]
defecation thing defecated (thing excreted through the anus) [U]
manure farmer's word [U]
poop slang word, much more socially acceptable in speech than other words [U]
poo poo child's word (usually for one's own solid excrement) [U]
doo doo child's word (usually for excrement not one's own) [U]

 

accept, receive, take
 
accept to take something given mentally
receive to take something given physically
take to let something be given OR to obtain something NOT given
- Sample sentences:

- I accepted the information gladly.
- I received the reward money.
- But, I did not accept the generosity of my benefactor, and returned the money.
- I extended my hand, and he took it.
- She took my book without permission.

 

include, contain, have

 
include to have (sth, which is abstract, untouchable) 
contain to have (sth, which is concrete, touchable)
have to possess (sth, either abstract or concrete) [hypernym]
  Sample sentences:

- English includes many words, and some words include many meanings.
- Books generally contain many words on their pages.
- English has many words and Books generally  have many words.

 

be made of, be made from, be composed of, consist of

 
be made of Where the component has retained much of its original form, "be made of" is used.

Example:  Glasses are made of glass.

be made from Where the component has been altered to the point where it is no longer recognizable, "be made from" is used.

Example:  Glass is made from sand.

be composed of The word "compose" includes two morphemes:  "com" + "pose".  "com" means 'together' and "pose" means 'put'.  When something is "composed", two or more things are put together, usually manually.

Example:  A song is composed of words and music.

consist of The word "consist" includes two morphemes: "con" + "sist".  "con" means 'together' and "sist" means 'exist'.  So, "consist" means two or more things exist together.

Example:  My family consists of two people, my son and me.

 

land, territory, earth, ground, soil, dirt
 
land could be considered a hypernym of all below, but generally speaking, it is used the same as territory
territory the possessed land of some person or country
earth the planet upon which we live [sometimes used as soil]
ground the surface of the planet upon which we live
soil the portion of the earth in which plants grow
dirt the portion of the earth in which plants CAN grow, but generally do NOT grow.

Example:  I traveled on a dirt road.

 

beach, shore, coast, ~side, bank

 
beach the land near a body of water, which consists of particles of sand
shore the land near a body of water, which consists of any kind of sand, dirt or soil
coast the length of land that connects one side of a continent with a sea or ocean
~side hypernomy (hypernymy) of all these synonyms
bank a vertical, near vertical, or steep land-water connection.  [usually used for a river bank, but can be used for lakes and seas as well]

 

wide, broad, vast, huge
 
wide (a) very long measurement, one dimensional and horizontal

Example:  The valley is very wide.

(b) the shorter of two measurements of a dimensional figure or of a plot of land (opp. long)

Example:  My land is 100 meters long by 50 meters wide.

broad (a) same as wide (a)

(b) abstractly wide

Example:  He has a broad mind.  (He is broad-minded).

vast VERY long AND VERY wide (horizontally) [generally 2 dimensions]
huge long and wide and tall [3-dimensions]

 

had better / have to & must / ought to & should

 
pre-note: it is important not to distinguish the lexical/linguistic items above by definitions alone, but ALSO BY FUNCTION !!! 
had better The function of this lexical item is WARNING.

The item "had better ((do sth))" is often collocated with "or else...", suggesting a negative consequence of NOT doing that thing.

For example:  "You had better not stick up your middle finger at another motorist in America, or else you might become a victim of road rage."  See Idioms Page for definition of "road rage".

have to & must With these two linguistic items, we must look at TWO TYPES OF FUNCTION:  SEMANTIC FUNCTION and GRAMMATICAL FUNCTION.

While the Semantic Function is the same for both linguistic items, the Grammatical Functions are different...

SEMANTIC FUNCTION:  to explicate a situation where there is no other choice, i.e., it is required, and/or compulsory.

GRAMMATICAL FUNCTIONS:

In "have + to-infinitive" we see that "have" is functioning just as any normal verb, which is collocated with another verb.

But "must" functions as an "auxiliary verb".

Furthermore, while some auxiliary verbs, such as "can" have a past tense, there is no past (nor a future tense) for "must".

ought to & should The semantic function of these two linguistic items is VERY different from the ones above.

SEMANTIC FUNCTIONS:

1.  Giving advice or suggestion
2.  Explicating the moral or ethical thing to do
3.  Obligation

NOW, let me explain what "obligation" means, because most Asian bilingual lexicons are WRONG!  Look at the diagram below:

As you can see, obligation reaches into the realm of "that which is compulsory" as well as into the realm of "that which is owed".

The semantic function of "should" is the kind of obligation which is "owed", NOT compulsory.

That which is compulsory belongs to the semantic function of "have to" or "must".

Example:  I should raise my son.  Why?  Not because I am compelled to do so, but because I owe it to him, being his natural father.  I have a moral obligation to raise my son.

 

home, house, housing, abode, domicile, dwelling, dormitory, barracks
 
home Home is any place where someone lives.  It could be the street, a car, or even a city, or country.  In a way, it could be considered a hypernym of all words below
house a home made for one family [US].  [in the UK, it would be called a "detached house", because most houses are duplexes in the UK.  See ABC Page for differences between US and UK English.]
housing a container or covering
abode a place to abide
domicile [from French] meaning: home
dwelling a place to dwell
dormitory a place to sleep
barracks a place for military personnel to sleep

 

attire, apparel, clothes, clothing, garment, vestiture, wear
 
attire "attire" is an interesting word, which appears to originate from "tir", an Old English word meaning "glory", and further back, possibly from a Germanic word which means "adorn".  So, "attire" is anything which adorns the human body (it would include accessories as well as clothing).  Therefore, "attire" would be a hypernym of all words below.
apparel apparel (n.) comes from apparel (v.), which originally meant "to get ready" (in French).  So, "apparel" [U] is the clothing that makes one appear "ready" to go out.
clothes [plural of cloth /kla/, "clothes" is pronounced: /klos/ ]

Clothes [C] any attire made of cloth.

clothing same as clothes [but "clothing" is UNcountable]
garment [from French, [C] an article of clothing or amour
vestiture [from Latin] same as clothing
wear anything worn on the body

 

kinds of attire
 
dress "dress" as a verb, means "to attire" (put attire on), but as a noun, it only denotes a woman's gown
gown an article of clothing, which has no pants (like a long shirt)
dressing gown [UK] a robe to cover ones sleeping clothes
night gown [US] same as dressing gown
vestment [from Latin] special clothing of someone in authority, the clothing signifies the authority of the wearer
underwear anything worn under ones regular outerwear
pants [in UK, pants = underpants; [in US, pants = trousers]
trousers two cloth coverings for one's legs, joined at the hip, covering the legs and loins and hips.
shirt an upper garment for ones arms and/or torso
blouse a woman's shirt
skirt a single cloth circling the legs (either partially or entirely) and the loins and hips.
shoes attire for one's feet (usually made of leather, but sometimes made of thick, durable cloth and rubber)
socks attire for one's feet (made of cloth)
pajamas attire for sleeping (not a kind of underwear)  [Some people sleep in their underwear ONLY... that is NOT pajamas!]
for more info: see my ATTIRE page.  (if link doesn't work, it means page is under construction, please try back later).

 

faculty, staff
 
faculty [U]  "the teaching staff and those members of the administrative staff having academic rank in a college, university, or other educational institution or one of its divisions"  (Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary)
staff [U] all employees of a given company or institution or department

 

folktale, folklore, legend, myth
 
folktale [C] a story which has been recounted by word of mouth from generation to generation.  It may, at last, have become written, but was not originally written.
folklore [U] all folktales
legend a folktale, which purports to be true
myth a folktale, which is generally considered untrue by academics, but may be considered true by religionists (hence, it is usually a religious story, about the origins of the world and gods and humans).

 

 

 

 

 

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