Definition of Synonym

Synonym is a word or phrase that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. The term “synonym” comes from the Latin word “synonymum,” which, in turn, originated from the Greek word “synonymon.” The word is composed of three parts: “syn,” meaning alike, “onym” meaning name. So, essentially, it means similar names. It’s unclear exactly when this term made its way into English from Norman French, where there are some equivalent terms.

Grammatically, “synonym” is a noun, and its plural form is “synonyms.” In literature or everyday language, a synonym can be a term, word, phrase, or morpheme that shares a similar meaning in the same or another language. Synonyms can be identified through various methods, such as substitution, meanings, word family, connotations, and denotations.

Types of Synonyms

There are four major types of synonyms:

  1. Absolute synonymy: This type of synonym is interchangeable.
  2. Complete synonymy: This type of synonym is equinormal.
  3. Cognitive synonymy: This type of synonym is referential.
  4. Plesionymy: This type of synonym is based on context.

Examples of Synonym in Literature

Example #1

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

The surgery went well. We were all a little shocked when they first removed the bandages, but kept our smiles on just as Dr. Kumar had instructed us. It wasn’t easy, because Hassan’s upper lip was a grotesque mesh of swollen, raw tissue. I expected Hassan to cry with horror when the nurse handed him the mirror. Ali held his hand as Hassan took a long, thoughtful look into it. He muttered something I didn’t understand. I put my ear to his mouth. He whispered it again.

In Khalid Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner, there’s a part where certain words, like “operation,” “trauma,” “awkward,” and “murmured,” stand out. You could swap these with similar words such as “procedure,” “distress,” “uncomfortable,” and “whispered.” However, the meanings would shift a bit depending on the situation. A person who reads with proficiency can ascertain the most appropriate synonym and grasp its influence on the context or overall significance of the text.

Example #2

A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy

‘Love is new, and fresh to us as the dew; and we are together. As the lover’s world goes, this is a great deal. Stephen, I fancy I see the difference between me and you––between men and women generally, perhaps. I am content to build happiness on any accidental basis that may lie near at hand; you are for making a world to suit your happiness.’

In this brief excerpt, all is fitting and proper. Yet, if you were to swap the key words—like replace “appropriate” with “suitable,” “seems” with “think,” “commonly” with “satisfied,” and “suitable” with “appropriate”—the impact might not be the same. The deliberate choice of words made by the author in Elfride Swancourt’s conversation serves a distinct purpose, and any substitution with common synonyms may potentially impact the overall meaning of the text.

Example #3

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

She turned her head and saw, a hand’s breadth from her eyes, those other glacial eyes, that livid face, those lips petrified with fear, just as she had seen them in the crowd at Midnight Mass the first time he was so close to her, but now, instead of the commotion of love, she felt the abyss of disenchantment. In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity. She just managed to think: My God, poor man! Florentino Ariza smiled, tried to say something, tried to follow her, but she erased him from her life with a wave of her hand.

In Marquez’s amazing book, Love in the Time of Cholera, there’s a part that reveals Fermina Daza’s love for Ariza. Even with the substitution of more advanced and unconventional terms, the overall effect seems to remain relatively unchanged. The thing is, this is already a translated version of the novel, which might not be as fitting as new synonyms could be. It highlights how synonyms play a meaningful role in shaping the text and its message.

Example #4

The Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Great God! what a scene has just taken place! I am yet dizzy with the remembrance of it. I hardly know whether I shall have the power to detail it; yet the tale which I have recorded would be incomplete without this final and wonderful catastrophe. I entered the cabin where lay the remains of my ill-fated and admirable friend. Over him hung a form which I cannot find words to describe—gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in its proportions. As he hung over the coffin, his face was concealed by long locks of ragged hair; but one vast hand was extended, in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy.

In the above passage from Frankenstein, and you’ll notice that swapping these three words with their fitting synonyms would change not just the text but also the message it conveys. Likewise, replacing them with antonyms would also have an impact on both the text and its message.

Example #4

Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Though I did lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune for man, yet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any satisfaction. Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice two makes four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as it is, corporal punishment is better than nothing.

In Dostoyevsky’s book, Notes from the Underground, the main character reflects on his fate. If you switch out the main words with their synonyms like “bad luck” for “fate,” “thinking” for “ruminates,” and “physical” for “impactful,” it might not carry the same weight as the original words chosen by the translator.

Functions of Synonym

Synonyms, though seemingly identical, carry distinct connotations, shades, and nuances. Although they may appear to be the same, there are subtle variations between them, compelling the audience to exert some effort in order to fully grasp the intended message of the writer. The presence of these linguistic variations is vital in the realm of communication, as they enable writers to incorporate a wide range of themes and messages into their concise texts. Through the strategic use of synonyms, writers can enrich the layers of meaning, fostering a deeper understanding among readers. In essence, synonyms serve as resourceful tools, enabling writers to convey subtle distinctions and create a more nuanced and impressive narrative within the constraints of concise and specific use of words in writing.


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