Studying Synonyms Study Guide

Updated on Jul 15, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Studying Synonyms Practice Exercises

Synonyms are words that mean almost the same thing as another word. Each one might have a certain shade or nuance that the other word doesn't, but often they can be used interchangeably. Knowing synonyms is important because it gives your writing and speaking more variety. Each synonym gives a slightly different meaning to the same action. So you can avoid what your teacher might label "vague and abstract terms," like things or stuff.

To give you an idea of how synonyms work, I've organized this section a little differently. Hopefully, it will give you a glimmer of how synonyms can improve your writing and speaking, and show you the many options the English language offers if you just take the time to go beyond the usual "stuff."

Thesaurus: No, It's Not a Dinosaur!

You already know that a dictionary is for looking up what a word means. It may list a synonym of the word, but what if you want to know as many synonyms as possible to enrich your vocabulary? You're in luck. A thesaurus does just that. Words may be in alphabetical order, as in a dictionary, or organized by categories. Either way, this resource can supply quite a few synonyms and often antonyms. Your computer probably has a thesaurus you can access at the click of a button. You can also find online thesauri—note the plural ending.


To replace vague words like things or stuff, try the following.

  • accoutrement   (noun) accessory items of personal clothing or equipment, usually used in the plural form
  • appurtenance  (noun) an important accessory, instrument, or piece of equipment
  • paraphernalia   (noun) equipment, apparatus or personal belongings; can beused as singular or plural

Perhaps you would like to describe a pretty woman or handsome man. How about:

  • beauteous  (adjective) lovely to look at
  • pulchritudinous  (adjective) physically beautiful and appealing
  • winsome  (adjective) innocently lovely or engaging

How about a grumpy, irritable person? You could use:

  • belligerent  (adjective) hostile, waging war, or eager to be part of a fight
  • cantankerous  (adjective) difficult or irritating to work or spend time with
  • pugnacious  (adjective) ready and willing to start or join a battle of any kind

On the other hand, how about that really friendly person you enjoy running into? You could describe the person as:

  • affable  (adjective) at ease and pleasant, especially in conversation; polite, mannerly
  • convivial  (adjective) friendly, fond of feasting and going to parties
  • gregarious   (adjective) tending to associate with others, sociable

[In the world of science, this means being part of a flock of animals or plants growing in clusters.]

How about simple words like small and big? Do they have replacements that could spice up your descriptions? Of course!

  • colossal   (adjective) extraordinarily great in size, extent, or degree; gigantic

[In the world of architecture, it pertains to a classic style in which columns span two or more stories of a building.]

  • diminutive  (adjective) of small or tiny size, often with the quality of being lovable or pitiful

[This can also be used as a noun to indicate a small person or thing.]

  • gargantuan   (adjective) enormous or very large

[The word first appeared in the late 1600s in books by Rabelais about a large-mouthed giant named Gargantua. The base word in Spanish means "gullet," and both gargantuan and gargle come from the same root. Imagine a gargantuan giant gargling!]

  • infinitesimal   (adjective) exceedingly small, almost immeasurably so

[In the world of math, this means "capable of having values approaching zero as a limit."]

  • minuscule   (adjective) very small

Verbs can be replaced also. Remember all the choices you read earlier for said? How about some alternatives to replace a word like walk?

  • amble  (verb) to maintain a slow, easy pace, such as a stroll

[This can also be used as a noun for a horse whose same-side legs move together. The word ambulance comes from the same base but, hopefully, if someone's being transported in one, it's not moving at a slow, easy pace.]

  • saunter   (verb) to take a leisurely walk
  • traipse   (verb) to walk or wander about aimlessly or without reaching one's goal

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Studying Synonyms Practice Exercises

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