Synonyms are different words with identical or at least similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek σύν (syn) with and ὄνομα (onoma) name. The words car and automobile are synonyms. Similarly, if we talk about a long time or an extended time, long and extended become synonyms. In the figurative sense, two words are often said to be synonymous if they have the same connotation.

Synonyms can be any part of speech (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or prepositions), as long as both members of the pair are the same part of speech. More examples of English synonyms are:

 baby and infant (noun)
 petty crime and misdemeanor (noun)
 student and pupil (noun)
 buy and purchase (verb)
 pretty and attractive (adjective)
 sick and ill (adjective)
 quickly and speedily (adverb)
 on and upon (preposition)
 freedom and liberty (noun)
 dead and deceased (adjective)

Note that the synonyms are defined with respect to certain senses of words; for instance, pupil as the “aperture in the iris of the eye” is not synonymous with student. Similarly, expired as “having lost validity” (as in grocery goods) doesn’t necessarily mean death.

In English many synonyms evolved from a mixture of Norman French and English words, often with some words associated with the Saxon countryside (“folk”,”freedom”) and synonyms with the Norman nobility (“people”, “liberty”). Some lexicographers claim that no synonyms have exactly the same meaning (in all contexts or social levels of language) because etymology, orthography,phonic qualities, ambiguous meanings, usage, etc. make them unique. Different words that are similar in meaning usually differ for a reason: feline is more formal than cat; long and extended are only synonyms in one usage and not in others (for example, a long arm is not the same as an extended arm). Synonyms are also a source of euphemisms. The purpose of a thesaurus is to offer the user a listing of similar or related words; these are often, but not always, synonyms.

Synonyms provide variety in our speech or writing. And, since there are endless arrays of synonyms, it’s possible to avoid over-usage and repetition. Let’s take a look at some examples of synonyms:

    • Amazing: astounding, surprising, stunning
    • Fertile: fruitful, abundant, productive
    • Polite: courteous, cordial, gracious
    • Annihilation: destruction, carnage, extinction
    • Gargantuan: colossal, mammoth, tremendous
    • Portion: piece, part, segment
    • Benefit: profit, revenue, yield
    • Hungry: empty, ravenous, starved
    • Risky: dangerous, perilous, treacherous
    • Brave: courageous, valiant, heroic
    • Injured: damaged, wounded, harmed
    • Sleepy: drowsy, listless, sluggish
    • Cohesive: united, connected, close-knit
    • Intelligent: brilliant, clever, smart
    • Senseless: absurd, illogical, unreasonable
    • Cunning: keen, sharp, slick
    • Kindle: ignite, inflame, burn
    • Tumultuous: hectic, raucous, turbulent
    • Destitute: poor, bankrupt, impoverished
    • Loyal: faithful, ardent, devoted
    • Vacant: empty, deserted, uninhabited
    • Deterioration: pollution, defilement, adulteration
    • Old: elderly, aged, senior
    • Veracity: authenticity, credibility, truthfulness
    • Enormous: huge, gigantic, massive
    • Organization: association, institution, management
    • Wet: damp, moist, soggy
    • Feisty: excitable, fiery, lively
    • Partner: associate, colleague, companion
    • Young: budding, fledgling, tenderfoot
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Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature for 14 years now. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, H.H. The Maharaja’s Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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