Synonyms are words with the same or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn (σύν) ("with") and onoma (ὄνομα) ("name"). An example of synonyms are the words begin and commence. Likewise, if we talk about a long time or an extended time, long and extended become synonyms. In the figurative sense, two words are often said to be synonymous if they have the same connotation:
- "a widespread impression that... Hollywood was synonymous with immorality" (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
- "buy" and "purchase"
- "big" and "large"
- "quickly" and "speedily"
- "on" and "upon"
Note that synonyms are defined with respect to certain senses of words; for instance, pupil as the "aperture in the iris of the eye" is not synonymous with student. Likewise, he expired means the same as he died, yet my passport has expired cannot be replaced by my passport has died.
In English, many synonyms emerged in the Middle Ages, after the Norman conquest of England. While England's new ruling class spoke Norman French, the lower classes continued to speak Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Thus, today we have synonyms like the Norman-derived "people", "liberty" and "archer", and the Saxon-derived "folk", "freedom" and "bowman". For more examples, see the list of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English.
Some lexicographers claim that no synonyms have exactly the same meaning (in all contexts or social levels of language) because etymology, orthography, phonic qualities, ambiguous meanings, usage, etc. make them unique. Different words that are similar in meaning usually differ for a reason: feline is more formal than cat; long and extended are only synonyms in one usage and not in others (for example, a long arm is not the same as an extended arm). Synonyms are also a source of euphemisms.
The purpose of a thesaurus is to offer the user a listing of similar or related words; these are often, but not always, synonyms.
Antonyms are words with opposite or nearly opposite meanings. For example: 'hot' => 'cold', 'large' => 'small', 'fresh' => 'stale'
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation, but different meanings. For example, 'witch' and 'which' are homophones in most accents (because they are pronounced the same).
Homographs are words that the same spelling, but have different pronunciations. For example, one can 'record' a song or keep a 'record' of documents.
Homonyms are words that have the same pronunciation and spelling, but have different meanings. For example, 'rose' (a type of flower) and 'rose' (past tense of "rise") are homonyms.
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