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How to Simplify Synonyms


Synonyms are words of identical/similar meanings or words having the same different applications in a language.

In dealing with synonyms, we need to recognise the fact that two words may not have exactly the same meaning in the English language. There may be a slight difference in meaning between two words which appear to be synonyms.

In synonyms, some words can be used interchangeably while some cannot. For example, the word big can be used to replace large interchangeably in certain expressions like:

(i)         I built a big house or I built a large house.

But in certain expressions, the word big and large cannot be used interchangeably like:

(ii)        I made a big mistake.

But it is not possible to say:

* I made a large mistake.

Consequently, the correct meaning of a particular word is based on the context it is used.

Illuminating Examples of Synonyms

There are examples of synonyms in English language. Some of them are as follows:

Inevitable        –           Unavoidable

Perplexed        –           Confused/Upset/Troubled

Emulate           –           Imitate/Copy

Obdurate         –           Obstinate/Impenitent/Stubborn

Arrest              –           Catch/Apprehend

Confirm           –           Corroborate

Earmark           –           Approve/Set aside

Hinder             –           Impede/Obstruct/Hamper

Devastation     –           Destruction/Obliteration/Ruin

Obnoxious       –           Offensive

Inimical           –           Harmful/Dangerous

Dangerous       –           Hazardous/Risky

Important Issues to Note

To identify the examples of synonyms is not enough, one also has to examine the class to each of them belongs. This will help to replace a word with another correctly. Consider the hints below.

(i)         It is important to take note of the change in the spelling of words.

(ii)        The synonyms of a word have the same class of words or must be in the same part of speech with the word. Consider the illustrations below.

  1. Verbs

(a)        Some synonyms can occur as the present tense or simple tense, e.g.

(i)         Beats – Flogs or Beat – Flog

(ii)        Amazes – Surprises or Amaze – Surprise

(iii)       Disseminates – Spreads/Passes or Disseminate – Spread/Pass

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(iv)       Rectifies – Amends/Corrects or Rectify – Amend/Correct

In the examples above, the words containing the final‘s’ are the simple tenses while those without the final‘s’ are the present tenses.

(b)        Some synonyms can occur as the continuous tense, e.g.

(i)         Transmitting – Imparting/Giving

(ii)        Corroborating – Confirming/Reinforcing

(iii)       Cogitating – Meditating

(iv)       Going through – Experiencing/Enduring/Coping with/Confronting/Bearing

In the examples above, the words used to replace other words are continuous tenses.

(c)        Some synonyms can also occur as the past tense or the participle tense, e.g.

(i)         Sensed – Thought/Noticed

(ii)        Rocked – Shaken/Trembled

(iii)       Restrained – Prevented/Averted

(iv)       Earmarked – Set aside/Approved

In the examples above, the words used to replace another words are past or participle tenses. It depends on how they are used in the context to recognise them as the past or participle forms.

In the formation of verbs under synonyms, no matter how correct the word used to replace another is, if the class of words is wrong, you will score zero marks. Learn from the examples below.

(a)(i)    I flog my students.       beat (ü) not beats(û)

(ii)    He flogs my students.    beats (ü) not beat (û)

(b)        I am cogitating about it.   meditating(ü) not meditate or meditated  (û)

(c)(i)    The government has earmarked N5m for the project.

(participle) approved/set aside(ü) not approve or setting aside (û)

(ii)    The chairman earmarked N4m for that project that last week.

(Past tense) Approved/set aside (ü)   approved/set aside(û)

  1. Nouns

Certain synonyms can appear as nouns, e.g.

(i)         Resentment – Anger/Annoyance/Indignation/Wrath

(ii)        Effect – Result/Consequence/Outcome

(iii)       Aversion – Distaste

(iv)       Devastation –Ruin/Destruction/Obliteration

The words used to replace another words in the examples above are nouns.

  1. Adjectives

Certain synonyms can appear as adjectives, e.g.

(i)         Essential – Necessary/Important/Crucial

(ii)        Audacious – Brave/Bold/Courageous/Daring/Gallant/Intrepid

(iii)       Pragmatic – Practical/Realistic

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(iv)       Wealthy – Rich/Affluent/Opulent

The words used to replace other words in the examples above are adjectives.

  1. Adverb

Certain synonyms can also appear as adverbs, e.g.

(i)         Instantaneously – Immediately/Urgently/Quickly/At once

(ii)        Gladly – Happily/Delightfully

(iii)       Seldom – Rarely/Occasionally

(iv)       Inimically – Harmfully

In the examples above, the words used to replace and those being replaced are adverbs.

  1. Prepositions or Linking Words

Certain synonyms can occur as linking words, e.g.

(i)         On the other hand – However/On the contrary/In contrast

(ii)        On account of – In view of/Because of/As a result of

(iii)       Furthermore – In addition/Moreover

(iv)       Irrespective of – Regardless of

In the examples above, the words used to replace and those being replaces are words used to link clauses, sentences or paragraphs together.

  1. Plural Formation

Some synonyms can occur as the plural forms, e.g.

(i)         Offenders – Culprits/Criminals

(ii)        Effects – Consequences/Results/Outcomes/Repercussions

(iii)       Surveys – Researches/Findings

(iv)       Careers – Professions/Vocations/Occupations

The words used to replace other words and those being replaced are plural forms. Learn from the sentences below.

  1. The effect of examination malpractices is devastating. (Noun) consequences or result or outcome can replace effect in the sentence.
  2. Segun is as audacious as a lion. (adj). Audacious can be replaced with brave or bold or courageous or daring or intrepid or gallant in the sentence.
  3. Bola seldom comes to school (adv). Seldom can be replaced with rarely/occasionally in the sentence.
  4. Irrespective of her weaknesses, I still love her (linker). Irrespective of can also be replaced with regardless of in the sentence.
  5. Some careers are more lucrative than other. (Plural form) Careers can be replaced with professions or occupations or vacations

If this teaching and learning process of the synonyms help, kindly comment.


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