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How to Learn Synonyms Effectively


If you have ever struggled to find the right word when you're speaking, you might have found yourself using a simpler word - or even a group of simpler words - just to finish your sentence. There is no right or wrong, of course, as long as what you're saying makes sense; but as you seek to advance in your career, it's always impressive when you know how to use more advanced words.

There is definitely a sense in the workplace that those holding higher positions in a company have a more advanced vocabulary, but the difference is that they know how to use it. One of the problems with focusing on learning synonyms is that you might not begin with the correct meaning of the word you start with. There are so many words in the English language that have a range of different meanings, and so you might be learning a set of synonyms that are gradually moving away from where you began, one step at a time.

Here is an example of what can go wrong if you focus on learning synonyms as a way of building your vocabulary. Let's take the very simple verb, 'Run', and we'll see how many 'synonym steps' can lead us to a completely different meaning:


Run → Manage ('run a business') → Handle ('can you manage that task?') → Touch ('the football player handled the ball') → Upset ('that story was so sad; it really touched me')


Can you see how our first step caused all the problems? I presume you didn't 'manage' home from school when you were a child (you ran!), but you can both Manage and Run a business.

Our second step brought us to Handle, which is a synonym of Manage; but not with the same meaning of Manage. Now we have moved to a different meaning, where you could both Manage or Handle a problem or task.

With our third step, we move even further away from Run, because you can both Handle and Touch something.

Finally, we see that Upset is a synonym verb of Touch, and there is no connection whatsoever to the word we began with.


The problem with learning synonyms, then, is that you might end up getting led so far away from the word you began with that the meaning is different and you no longer make sense. This is an extreme example, of course, and it may seem a little silly to think that you could get it so wrong; but even the first step shows that unless you have learned not only the meaning(s) of words, but also how to use them in their proper context to convey exactly what you intended, then you will make mistakes that are easily avoidable.


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