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Synonyms in English

Synonyms are words that sound different but have the same or nearly the same
meanings. Semanticists seem to agree that synonymy is a relation between two, or
more, lexical items having the same denotations, and the more similar denotations
these items share, the higher the degree of synonymity that exists between them.

Lyons (1981) states that synonymy is a linguistic term that refers to lexical items that
share the same, or similar, meanings. It falls within the domain of semantic study.

Synonyms can be any part of speech (such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs or
prepositions), as long as both words belong to the same part of speech (Usni,2002).
Synonyms are also a source of euphemisms. The main difference between Synonym
and Euphemism is that the Synonym is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly
the same as another word or phrase in the same language and Euphemism is a
innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive.
English is particularly rich in synonyms . why?
The reason is historical that the vocabulary of English has
come from two different sources, from Anglo-saxon on the
one hand and from French , Latin and Greek on the
other.(Palmer 1981).

***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.
If we look at possible synonyms there are at least five ways in which they can be
seen to differ :
1. Some sets of synonyms belong to different dialects of the language.
Ex. Fall – autumn
2. Words that are used in different styles .
Ex. Gentleman – man - chap
3. Some words may be said to differ only in their emotive or
evaluative meanings.
Ex . politician – statesman
4. Some words are collocationally restricted .
Ex. Addled – eggs
5. Many words are close in meaning , or that their meaning overlap.(loose sense of
Ex. Loose – inexact, free, relaxed, vague , lax , inattentive , etc.
Testing synonymy
1. Substitution - substituting one word for another .
Ex. Deep or profound may be used with sympathy but only deep with water
But this will give us little measure of synonymy or of similarity of meaning ; it will
merely indicate the collocational possibilities and these do not seem to be always
related to nearness of meaning .
2. Investigate the 'opposite' (The antonyms).
Ex. Superficial is to be contrasted with both deep – profound , but shallow is in
contrast only with deep.
Perhaps the fact that two words appear to have the same antonyms is a reason for
testing them as synonyms , but we shall again arrive at the words that are
interchangeable in certain environments. .(Palmer 1981).
There are two phenomena that are sometimes handled under synonymy .
The first : Context- dependent synonymy where two items appear to be
synonymous in a particular context (lyons 1968). This type of synonymy is best
illustrated by the lexical items buy and get in the following contexts:
I'll go to the shop and get / buy some bread.
I will get / * buy my son from his office.
The second kind of 'synonymy' is that between bull and male adult bovine animal .
The test of interchangeablility would rule these out completely as synonymous.
Function of Synonymy in Language
If there are fine differences between any two seemingly similar expressions, why is it
the case that written texts and people in everyday life communication use different
words to mean the same thing? Synonymy in language has different functions.
Synonyms may be used (a) to avoid repetition, (b) to secure cohesion, (c) to expand
the text in the interest of redundancy, (d) to provide additional comment about the
topic, and (e) to avoid poor and tedious style.( Newmark 1981).