Sources of synonyms in English

Synonyms and antonyms in English

I. A very important principle of grouping words in a language is the synonymic principle (according to similarity of meaning).

Synonyms are words which are the same in the plane of content (в плане содержания) but different in the plane of expression (в плане выражения), e.g.:

beautiful – handsome – pretty – charming

to glister – to beam – to shine – to twinkle

English is very rich in synonyms because there are a lot of borrowed words in it. There are about 8000 synonymic groups in English. ME is characterized by the existence of a great number of “synonymic dominants”. A synonymic dominant is the most general word in a given group of synonyms – a word belonging to the basic stock of words and the neutral layer of the vocabulary, e.g.:

to aid – to help – to assist – to succor

to behold – to see – to observe – to regard

labour – work – drudge – toil – job

cardinal – chief – principal – primary – main

A word may enter as many synonymic groups as it has meanings (lexico-semantic variants):

to close – to finish to cry – to shout head – chief – leader

to close – to shut to cry – to weep head – top – summit

There may be different systems of classifying synonyms. Our native linguists speak of two groups of synonyms:

a). Ideographicsynonyms, which have different notional components of meaning:

idle – lazy – indolent

understand – realize

change – alter –vary (a man changes his habits, alters his conduct, and varies his manner of speaking).

b). Stylistic synonyms have the same notional components of meaning but differ in connotational components of meaning, having different emotive charge or belonging to a different stylistic layer:

child – kid wave – billow

imitate – monkey building – edifice

English linguists (and some native ones) also distinguish absolute synonyms (exactly the same in meaning and style):

fatherland – motherland to allow – to permit

gorse – whin языкознание – лингвистика

Sources of synonyms in English

1). Synonymic groups in English may reflect the history of the formation of the English vocabulary, especially the participation of different languages in its formation:

Anglo-Saxon Romance

friendship amity

fatherly paternal

deed action

2). Many synonyms of the English language have resulted from the development of meaning:

hand – part – share

hand – handwriting

heart – middle – center – core (“The Heart of the Matter” by G.Green).

3). Some synonyms appear from dialects:

charm – glamour (Scot.)

boy – lad

girl – lass

4). Some synonyms appear from euphemisms:

to sweat – to perspire

to die – to depart

God – Savior

5). Some synonyms appear from clipping:

comfortable – comfy

lunatic – luny

doctor - doc

2. Words of the same part of speech but opposite in meaning are called antonyms:

black – white to break – to mend

big – small up – down

Not every word has an antonym, though practically every word has a synonym.

Many words of concrete meaning have no antonyms: table, blackboard, lamp, house, tree.

Names of physical or mental qualities usually have antonyms:

round – square kind – unkind heavy – light

tall – short bad – good short – long

Abstract notions also have antonyms:

love – hatred friendship – enmity – hostility

boundage – freedom war – peace

Words denoting physical or mental activity or state usually have antonyms too:

to give – to take to sleep – to keep awake

to put on – to take off to tie – to untie

Polysemantic words may be put into antonymic groups according to the meanings they express:

dear – cheap dry – wet light – heavy bright – dark

dear – hateful dry – interesting light – dark bright – dull

We distinguish two types of antonyms:

a). Absolute antonyms, made up of words of different roots, they express polar notions: good – bad, to love – to hate, right – wrong, etc.

b). Derivational antonyms, formed with the help of derivational affixes, they express contrary notions: like – dislike. There are several affixes in English which help in the formation of derivational antonyms:


un- (usual – unusual)

in- (and its allomorphs) (correct – incorrect, legal – illegal, possible – impossible)

dis- (trust – distrust)

a- (chromatic – achromatic)

ab- (normal – abnormal)

under- , over- (underestimate – overestimate)

pre-, post- (prewar – postwar)

suffixes: - full, -less (artful – artless)

-y, -less (windy – windless)

We even distinguish phraseological antonyms:

big fish – small fry

as cold as ice – as hot as fire