During your studies, you have already written many texts in English and you might have encountered various problems in the process. A common trap is using the same word over and over and over and over again. English is a language with a vast amount of vocabulary. Almost any term has got a synonym, another term, which has the same meaning but not the same form. The knowledge of synonyms is a useful skill for a student of a foreign language. Let us see how dictionaries can help us to find such synonyms.

Joseph E. Worchester wrote the work “A Dictionary of the English language”, which was one of the first dictionaries discussing the discrimination of synonyms. Synonym dictionaries came to England comparatively late. The word stock of English increased immensely in this era. Before then, the same words were used with different meanings in different contexts (Landau 1984, p.104). A milestone in synonym dictionary making was Roget`s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, published in 1852. Roget described its arrangement of words like this:

“…not in alphabetical order as they are in a dictionary, but according to the ideas which they express. The purpose of an ordinary dictionary is simply to explain the meaning of words…The object aimed at in the present undertaking is exactly converse of this: namely,- the dea being given, to find the word, or words, by which that idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed. For this purpose, the words and phrases of the language are here classed, not according to their sound or their orthography, but strictly according to their signification.” (cited from Landau 1984, p. 106)

Roget placed synonyms in different conceptual categories which was an absolutely new idea. This idea of a “conceptually based Thesaurus” was naturally something regular dictionary users were not used to. Therefore, an index was obligatory to make his work accessible. Roget` s Thesaurus was so important for the field of synonym dictionaries that most of today`s dictionaries are called Thesaurus. There are conceptually organized synonym dictionaries following Roget`s model and alphabetically organized ones (Landau 1984, p. 107 ff.)

While in general dictionaries information about synonymy is sometimes included, ESL and bilingual dictionaries mostly do not mention synonymy because users often do not need or want this information. Knowledge of synonymy can create more sensitivity for a language and thesauruses aim at teaching you how to talk to other speakers in an elaborate and varied way (Landau 1984, p. 110 f.) while bilingual, ESL and EFL dictionaries try to guarantee that a user can find basic information to be able to communicate with a native speaker at all or sufficiently.


Find 3 or more synonyms of the following words in "Roget` s Thesaurus" (signature: DER 4260 240) or an online dictionary for synonymy!

a) glorious

b) grotesque

c) model

d) quotation

e) dictionary

The following links could help:

If you want to check your results or cannot find answers, check this link: