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General Tips: Synonyms

What are synonyms?

A synonym (/ˈsɪnənɪm/) is a word that has exactly (or almost exactly) the same meaning as another word. For example, the word fast is a synonym of the word quick and vice-versa.

Why should I know synonyms?

Knowing synonyms increases your vocabulary and stop you from repeating the same word over and over.

For example, we can say:

The woman was happy.

That is a fine sentence. But we could use a synonym of happy and make this sentence fancier.

The woman was content.

The woman was cheerful.

The woman was delighted.

The woman was joyful.

The woman was blithe.

The woman was ecstatic.

These sentences all mean more or less the same thing; we just used different synonyms. In fact, there are so many synonyms for the word happy, we could go on like this for several pages.

Why is it helpful for IELTS or PTE?

Using less common adjectives (like ecstatic or blithe) instead of a common one (like happy), shows a higher level of English. Understanding these synonyms will also make the Reading section much easier as it relies heavily on synonyms.

So synonyms are important for all sections – reading, writing, listening and speaking – of the IELTS Academic, IELTS General Training and PTE Academic Tests (not to mention everyday English and any other English test you may have to take).

Reading – The reading texts will almost always use synonyms of words used in the question and answers. This is how they really test your English level! Knowing synonyms is vital for the reading section.

Writing – Two words: lexical resource. Also know as vocabulary. One of the criteria your writing is judged on. This means using a variety of words and not repeating the same one over and over. Synonyms can help you avoid that.

Listening – Synonyms may be used in listening texts (especially in PTE Academic).

Speaking – Like in Writing, it is important to use a variety of vocabulary. Showing your knowledge of synonyms will ensure you get a high score.

Beware! Same-same but different

While we define synonyms as having the same (or almost the same) meaning, we cannot always use them interchangeably.

Why? Well, for one reason, sometimes they just sound funny or weird. For example, we can say fast car, but not quick car. Fast and quick are synonyms, but it sounds strange to say quick car. Why? Because fast car is what we call a collocation (learn more about collocations from our previous post).

Secondly, even synonyms have different connotations. That is, words have different feelings or ideas that go with them. For example, the word traditional has a respectful connotation, whereas the synonym outdated has a very negative connotation. Because of connotations, looking up singular synonyms in Google can be dangerous. For example, you can look up a synonym for student and find disciple. However, in most contexts, it would be wrong to use the word disciple because in English it often has very religious connotations. So always look up how a word is used in a sentence before you use it yourself. You can use this website to help you.

Where can I learn synonyms?

The first thing you need to learn synonyms is a thesaurus – the book that lists synonyms. Luckily nowadays we live in the internet age and you can find many thesaurus’ online.

You can make your own lists of synonyms and practice using them when you write an essay – our teachers at English Key love correcting essays that use synonyms; and your examiner will love it even more.

To practice, join an IELTS preparation course or PTE preparation course today at English Key Melbourne or English Key Sydney, and let our experienced teachers help improve your synonym knowledge.

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