Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Synonymy

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Synonymy

Synonymy relates to the topic of semantics, which concerns the study of meaning in language. The term synonymy originates from the Greek words sún and onoma, which mean with and name.

Synonymy in semantics

Synonymy in semantics refers to a word with the same (or nearly the same) meaning as another word.

Let's see if you've grasped the concept of synonymy by finding two synonymous words in these sentences:

  1. Today's weather is awful.
  2. Today's weather is terrible.

The first sentence uses awful to describe the weather and the second uses terrible. Although both sentences use different words, they have the same meaning: bad. In other words, awful and terrible are synonyms of bad.

Important note: Be careful of the slight differences between the synonyms. Not every synonymous word fits in all situations, eg small isn't exactly the same as tiny. You have to consider some factors, including the context, the relationship between words, register, and regional variation, among others. Take a look at the 'types of synonymy' section for more details.

To test whether two words are synonyms (or synonymous), we can use a substitution method: if one word can be replaced by another without changing the meaning/sense of the sentence, the two words are synonyms. The opposite of synonymy is antonymy. Synonymy can be found across all parts of speech: in nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.

A ≈ B

Synonym examples

Here are some examples of synonyms:

  • big-large

  • small - little

  • easy - effortless

  • difficult - hard

Let's put the synonyms into a sentence and use the substitution method:

1a. You have a big house.

1b. You have a large house.

By substituting big with large, we can keep the sentence's meaning (the description of the house) in a similar degree/sense as the original sentence.

2a. He had a difficult decision to make.

2b. He had a hard decision to make.

The same as before, the substitution of difficult with hard does not change the sentence's meaning (the description of the decision).

Synonymy in literature

Synonymy is one of the literary devices in which a word is replaced with another word with a similar meaning, to avoid repetition.

Here are some examples of synonymy in literature:

If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time. It's because he wants to stay inside.

- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960.

Instead of repeating the word one kind, Lee chooses its synonym: alike, to relay a similar meaning to 'very similar'. The same thing happens in the case of stayed shut up in the house and stay inside. Using synonymy, Lee enriches the prose by avoiding repetition while keeping the meaning similar in both cases.

For thee I watch, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere.

- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 61, 1609.

Wake is a synonym of watch. Here, wake means 'to stay awake to watch or tend' (Oxford English Dictionary). Notice the slightly richer sense of see in watch compared to wake, yet the two words carry a similar meaning. By adopting synonymy, Shakespeare enhances the quality of the words he uses.

I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her.

- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859.

Fondly and devotedly are synonyms that describe 'a way to show great love for somebody/something' (Oxford Learner's Dictionary). Using two different words with a similar meaning, Dickens describes how strong the character's feelings are (how I love your daughter) without repeating the word.

Types of synonyms

Now that we've looked at the concept, let's examine the two types of synonymy:

  1. Absolute synonyms

  2. Partial synonyms

Absolute synonyms

WIth absolute synonyms, the meaning and function of the synonymous words are exactly the same. If you have a pair of absolutely synonymous words, you can substitute the words in every possible context (semantic, grammatical, sociolinguistic, etc.) with its synonym. This condition is very rare because, usually, two words that refer to the same meaning/object can't co-exist. An example of an absolute synonym is airport and aerodrome. The former is what we commonly use nowadays, whereas the latter is an old-fashioned word.

Partial synonyms

Partial synonyms, on the other hand, occur when words have very closely related meanings. The meanings are not exactly the same, only partially, but close enough to relay the same message. Partial synonyms can differ in their collocation, register, and regional/social variation.

Have a look at these examples of partial synonyms:

1. We have a big problem.Although gigantic is synonymous with big, the word combination of gigantic problem (1c) doesn't sound natural. This is what's called a collocation (a pairing of words with a high level of frequency).
a. We have a large problem.
b. We have a huge problem.
c. We have a gigantic problem.
2a. The tickets can only be bought online.Generally, buy and purchase mean 'to obtain something by paying money for it' (Oxford Learner's Dictionary). However, the two words differ in their register. Buy is considered a general term, whereas purchase is often used in a more formal context.
2 B. The tickets can only be purchased online.
3a. It's been a very chilly autumn this year.

Both autumn and fall mean 'the season of the year between summer and winter.'

But, autumn is Commonly used in British English, while fall is used in American English. They differ in regional/social variety.

3b. It's been a very chilly fall this year.

Synonymy and homonymy - what's the difference?

Synonymous words are words that carry similar meanings (meaning 1 is similar to meaning 2 and meaning 3). Homonymous words (homonymy) are words that are pronounced the same or spelt the same (or both), but their meanings are dissimilar.

Important to note: Homonym is a broader term for homophone (words that sound the same but have different meanings) and homograph (words that are spelt the same but have different meanings).Synonymy, Synonymy vs Homonymy, StudySmarter Synonyms have similar meanings but homonyms have different meanings (StudySmarter Original)

Synonymy and polysemy - what's the difference?

When a set of different words carries a similar meaning it is called synonymy. When a single word has several meanings (word form 1 has meaning 1 and meaning 2), it is called polysemy.

Synonymy - similar meanings: wing - extension & section.

  • They are building a new wing for the maternity department.
  • They are building a new extension for the maternity department.

Even though the word wing is replaced with extension, we still get the same information about 'a new section of the hospital is currently being constructed and it is for the maternity department'. The meaning of extension isn't exactly the same as wing , but similar.

  • My room is on the west wing.
  • My room is on the west section (of the building).

The same explanation can also be found here. We still get the same information about where my room is: on the west side of the building.

Polysemy - multiple meanings: wing - animal parts for flying & a section of a building.

  • They are building a new wing for the maternity department.

The meaning of wing in this sentence refers to 'a section of building' and not 'animal parts for flying'.

  • The bird's wing is broken.

Here, the meaning of wing is about the 'animal parts for flying' and not 'a section of a building'.

Synonymy vs. Polysemy

  • In synonymy, you can substitute a word with its similar meaning and the sense/meaning of the sentence doesn't change. A is similar to B .
  • Synonyms are usually used as a means of avoiding word repetition. However, be careful of the slightly different meanings of synonymous words. Always be mindful of the context and valency of the sentence.
  • Polysemy isn't about word substitution. Because a single polysemic word has many meanings (A means B and C) , it can cause ambiguity. It is often used for wordplay or for creating “hidden” meanings.

Synonymy - Key takeaways

  • Synonymy is a linguistic term for words with similar meanings. If you replace one word with its synonym, the meaning/sense of the sentence doesn't change. You can test synonymy by using the substitution method.
  • There are two types of synonymy: Absolute synonyms, when the meaning and function of the words is exactly the same, and partial synonyms, when the meaning and function of the words is only partially the same. This may depend on the collocation, register, and regional/social variety of the words.
  • Homonymy refers to words that have different meanings but are the same in pronunciation or spelling or both.
  • Polysemy refers to a single word did has multiple meanings, eg mouse - a rodent and computer device.
  • Synonymy features words with similar meanings, while homonymy has words with different meaning but have the same pronunciation or spelling or both.
  • Synonymy Involves words with similar meanings, while polysemy is words with multiple meanings did create wordplay.

Frequently Asked Questions about Synonymy

Synonymy is a term for words with the same or nearly the same meaning as another word.

 Some examples of synonymy are big - large, small - little, easy - effortless, difficult - hard.

Synonymy is pronounced si-no-ni-mi (/ sɪˈnənɪmi /).

Synonymy is about words that have similar meanings: A is similar to B. Homonymy are words that have different meanings but are pronounced or spelled the same, or both: the meaning of A is different from B, but A is pronounced or spelled, or pronounced and spelled the same as B.

 Synonymy is about words that have similar meanings: A is similar to B. Polysemy is about one word that has many meanings: A means B and C.

Final Synonymy Quiz

Question

What is synonymy?

Show answer

Answer

Synonymy is a term for a word with the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. If you substitute synonymous words, the meaning / sense of the sentence doesn't change.

Show question

Question

What are the two types of synonyms?


Show answer

Answer

The two types of synonyms are absolute and partial synonyms.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below synonymous with each other? If so, is it an absolute or a partial synonym (collocation, register, or regional / social variety)?   

  • You have a big house.
  • You have a huge house.

Show answer

Answer

Yes, the two sentences are partial synonyms in collocation.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below synonymous with each other? If so, is it an absolute or a partial synonym (collocation, register, or regional / social variety)?   

  • The salesman endeavored to attract my attention.
  • The salesman tried to attract my attention.

Show answer

Answer

Yes, the two sentences are partial synonyms in register. Endeavour has a similar meaning to try but has a higher degree of formality.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below synonymous with each other? If so, is it an absolute or a partial synonym (collocation, register, or regional / social variety)?     

  • He is a truck driver.
  • He is a lorry driver.

Show answer

Answer

The two sentences are partial synonyms in regional / social variety. Truck has a similar meaning to lorry but is commonly used in American English (lorry is more common in British English).

Show question

Question

True or false - Absolute synonyms are common.


Show answer

Answer

False. Absolute synonyms are very rare.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below a partial synonym in collocation, register, or regional / social variety?   

  • These numbers are surprisingly low. Can you verify them?

  • These numbers are surprisingly low. Can you check them?

Show answer

Answer

The two sentences are partial synonyms in register. Verify has a similar meaning to check but has a higher degree of formality.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below a partial synonym in collocation, register, or regional / social variety?   

  • He placed the glass gently.
  • He placed the glass carefully.

Show answer

Answer

The two sentences are partial synonyms in collocation.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below a partial synonym in collocation, register, or regional / social variety?     

  • The shop was closed.
  • The store was closed.

Show answer

Answer

 The two sentences are partial synonyms in regional / social variety. Shop has a similar meaning to store but is commonly used in British English (store is more common in American English).

Show question

Question

What is the difference between synonymy and homonymy?


Show answer

Answer

Synonymy is about words that have similar meanings. Homonymy is about words that are the same in pronunciation or spelling or both, and their meanings are dissimilar.

Show question

Question

True or false - The words fly in these two sentences are homonyms:

  • Do you know how to fly a kite?

  • He swatted the fly with a magazine.

Show answer

Answer

 True. The words fly in both sentences have the same pronunciation and spelling but differ in meaning. Thus, they're homonyms.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below synonymous with each other? If not, what relationship do they have?

  • My brother is coming over for a couple of days next spring.
  • The mattress has lost its spring.

Show answer

Answer

No, the two sentences are not synonymous. The first spring refers to 'the season', while the second refers to 'the ability to return to its usual shape after it has been pressed'. They are homonymous (words that have different meanings but are the same in pronunciation and spelling).

Show question

Question

What is the difference between synonymy and polysemy?


Show answer

Answer

Synonymy is about words that have similar meanings. Polysemy is about a single word that has more than one meaning.

Show question

Question

True or false - The words wing in these two sentences are polysemies: 

  • The radical wing of the party has dominated the discussion.

  • There's a dent in the left wing of your car.

Show answer

Answer

True. The words wing in both sentences have the same form but different meanings. Thus, they're polysemies.

Show question

Question

Are the sentences below synonymous with each other?   

  • Let me have my drink then we can go.
  • He has a drinking problem.

Show answer

Answer

No, the two sentences are not synonymous. The first drink refers to 'any liquid for drinking', while the second drink in drinking problem refers to 'an alcoholic drink'. They are polysemous (a word that has several meanings).

Show question

Question

Are these two words synonyms?


Difficult & Hard

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Are these two words synonyms?


Eager & Lazy

Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

Are these two words synonyms?


Big & Large

Show answer

Answer

Yes

Show question

Question

Are these two words synonyms?


Exciting & Boring

Show answer

Answer

No

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a synonym for disgusting?

Show answer

Answer

revolting

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a synonym for quick?

Show answer

Answer

slow

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a synonym for shy?

Show answer

Answer

brash

Show question

Question

Which of the following is a synonym for near?

Show answer

Answer

close

Show question

Question

The term synonymy originates from the Greek words sún and onoma, which mean what?


Show answer

Answer

with and name

Show question

Question

What is the opposite of synonymy?

Show answer

Answer

Antonymy

Show question

More about Synonymy
60%

of the users don't pass the Synonymy quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.