Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MatrixGravity, May 14, 2011.
And how do you keep track of remember each and every single one and knowing when to use it?
I don't think that you keep track of them _as synonyms_. They're just words that happen to mean similar things.
For example, a cat might be a pet - those two words might function as synonyms. On the other hand, a stray cat isn't really a pet. And a lion is a cat, but it's certainly not a pet. And a pet may be a dog or a fish or a hamster, rather than being a cat. And a hamster is a rodent, but there are rodents that are not hamsters.
And shoes may be called footwear. And boots may be called footwear. And some people might refer to boots as shoes. And many people would refer to sandals as shoes, and also as footwear.
So, they're just words, and you use them as words. The term "synonym" is a handy term that's shorter than saying, "two words that mean similar things", but you wouldn't really memorize synonyms.
Once in a while, you might actively want a synonym for something, and then you'd look in a thesaurus - that's what a thesaurus is for. But I wouldn't recommend making a regular practice of this, and I certainly wouldn't recommend plucking words that you're not familiar with out of a thesaurus. I use one occasionally to find a word that I _know_ exists, but I can't quite bring to my mind without a little help.
For example, imagine I want to say that something is badly done, and I _know_ there's a word that has just the right feel, but it's not coming to me. I check a thesaurus for synonyms for "bad", and it reminds me, "Slipshod! That's the word I want!" But I already know what "slipshod" means and how to use it - I didn't just search for a fancy-sounding equivalent of "bad" and pluck, say, "fallacious" out of the list of synonyms.
Edited to add: And: Stop preparing to write, and start writing! You don't need to do vocabulary exercises, or memorize synonyms, or any of this stuff. Write. Just write.
Didn't you hear? There's a tricky examination you have to pass to be a writer now. The council's started sending it out to all the unpublished scribblers. Fortunately I just squeezed by with my single publication: I hear the test is brutal.
You read and whenever you come across a word you're not completely sure about you look it up. I don't just mean words you absolutely have no clue how to define. I'm also talking about words you more-or-less understand in the context of the sentence, but wouldn't have the confidence to use in your own writing. Sometimes we're too lazy to look up a word and rely on passive assimilation to slowly build up our vocabulary, but that's the problem, it's too slow. By actively pulling out a dictionary and reading the formal definition of the word then comparing it to the contextual sentence you're fortifying your grasp of the word and that's what makes it stick, and gives you the confidence and the ability to use it yourself.
As for remembering words, there was something I used to do a while back on my Iphone. The dictionary.com application had a history feature so at any time when I was bored I could check out every word I had ever looked up over the past few months and test myself if I still remembered them.
Well now I have a kindle and that's a dream. No more dictionaries. You just place the cursor over the nebulous word and the definition pops up. Magical.
no one can remember them all... which is why dear m. roget compiled a 'thesaurus' for us...
I agree with all the above posters... synonyms weren't meant to be memorized, it was just a word invented to be a shorter version than using the description of it all the time.
Sometimes you might use a certain type of synonym in a lot of stuff you write, so memorizing a certain set or something would be helpful... but that's what I use a thesaurus for. It's very helpful.
They're not really "for" anything, they're just an artifact of the way language has developed. But since they're there the writer can use them. Synonyms are rarely exact. One wag noted that although the dictionary says that "vision" and "sight" are synonyms, calling a woman "a vision" is likely to get a different reaction to calling her "a sight". Synonyms have different connotations, different people will use different words, they are used in different contexts. "Stop", "Cease" and "Halt" appear to be synonyms, but if somebody says to a naught child "Cease that action!" instead of "Stop doing that!" it tells you that the person is using language in a very strange way. They also only partially overlap in meaning. "Cease! Thief!" only makes sense if addressed to the thief (what would passers-by cease?), whereas "Stop! Thief!" can be meaningfully addressed to passers-by (it's quite clear what -- who -- you want the passers-by to stop).
As for learning them, it's just a question of listening and reading a lot. Sorry.
It's probably more of a case that you know all the synonyms already - you just don't realise it. Almost every word one uses has synonyms. It's just one of those things that you learn instinctively as you learn the language, and then it can suddenly seem confusing, I guess, if the first time you hear about it it seems like some strange concept or something frightening and huge.
"keep track of" and "remember" are synonymous. "single" and "one" are too. You do it without knowing, and to be honest you don't need to know either. Just go with what sounds right in the moment. We learn language and it comes to us through experience of hearing it used before, and that's how we know what words to use when.
You don't really "memorize" synonyms as synonyms. As you learn new words, you, in turn, are learning certain words which could be used as synonyms. You know which synonym to use as you write in context. If the word doesn't feel like it's as strong as it could be, find a synonym. Synonyms also help to avoid repetition.
I have a friend who nonchalantly reads the dictionary and thesaurus. He's an odd duck XD.
I frequently find my ESL students relying on a thesaurus to try to bluff their way through class. They think that I don't notice that they're looking up synonyms and then inserting them in as if they all mean exactly the same thing. You don't need to memorize the synonyms, but what you do need to do is pay attention to the context in which the synonyms are used and the connotation (negative? positive? neutral?).
That said, use a thesaurus and then check out the context in a dictionary. Then ask yourself if the word is overly formal or somewhat obsolete. Does the word actually fit with the rest of the voice of the paper or will it look like you just swallowed your vocab practice book and then spit it out all over the piece you're writing?
i generally tell beginning writers to lock up their thesaurus till they don't need one...
That's fair advice. A thesaurus can act as a useful jog to the memory, but you really need to be comfortable with any word it suggests before you can use it. I can't remember ever using a thesaurus suggestion other than facetiously (that's the way I used it, not the word I used).
Separate names with a comma.