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Classification of synonyms

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1. Classification of synonyms.

  1. Sources of synonyms.
  2. Antonyms. Types of antonyms.
  3. Homonyms: words of the same form.
  4. Sources of homonyms.
  5. Paronyms.


Synonyms (Gr. synonymous “of like meaning”, syn – “with”, onyma – “name”) are words belonging to the same part of speech, differing in sound form, and possessing one or more identical or nearly identical (similar) denotational meanings. English is very rich in synonyms. An elementary dictionary of synonyms contains over 8 000 synonyms. The existence of the so-called absolute synonyms (e.g. looking-glass/mirror, fatherland/homeland, etc.) is a very rare phenomenon because in the course of language development numerous old names for the same object underwent the process of differentiation and the words came to have either a different shades of meaning or usage. Thus, we devide synonyms into the following groups: ideographic, stylistic, contextual, total and phraseological synonyms.

Ideographic synonyms denote different shades of meaning or degrees of a given quality. They sometimes called relative synonyms,

e.g. beautiful, fine, handsome, pretty, pleasant

different, various

large, great, huge, tremendous, colossal

Stylistic synonyms are differ in usage and style,

e.g. doctor (official), doc (familiar)

examination (official), exam (coll.)

to commence (official), to begin (coll.)

Contextual (context-dependent) synonyms are similar in meaning in certain context. For example, the verbs to buy and to get would not generally be taken as synonyms, but they are synonyms in the following context: I’ll go to the shop and buy some bread/ I’ll go to the shop and get some bread.

Total synonyms can replace each other in any given context without the slightest alteration in denotative or emotional meaning and connotations. Examples of this type can be found in special literature among terms belonging to this or that branch of knowledge. It must be noted that it is a very special kind of synonymy: neither ideographic nor stylistic oppositions are possible here. Thus, in linguistics the terms noun and substantive, functional affix, flexion and inflection are identical in meaning.

Phraseological synonyms. The same misunderstood conception of incherchangeability lies at the bottom of considering different dialect names for the same plant, animal, etc. Thus, the cornflower is so called because it grows in cornfields; some people call it bluebottle according to the shape and colour of its petals.

Each group of synonyms comprises a synonymic dominant – the unit possessing the most general meaning of the kind, e.g. to shine: to flash, to blaze, to gleam, to glisten, to sparkle, to glitter, to shimmer, to glimmer.


  1. Sources of synonyms

There are several sources of synonyms:

a) Borrowings from French, Latin and Greek are the most numerous, e.g. to question (Fr.) – to interrogate (L) – to ask (native); devoid (Fr.) – vacuous (L) – empty (native); guidance (Fr.) – instruction (L) – teaching (native), etc.

b) Dialectical words which come from local dialects and are used in the English vocabulary as regular, e.g. girl: lass, lassie; radio:: wireless; long ago:: long syne, etc.

c) Word-forming process which is productive in the language at a given time of its history. The words already existing in the language develop new meanings and are formed by affixation, conversion, compounding, shortening and form synonyms to those already in use, e.g. to enter – to come in (phrasal verbs), to verbalize – to word (conversion), popular – pop (shortening).

d) Euphemisms and vulgarisms employed for certain stylistic purposes, e.g. in one’s birthday suit (naked), in the family way (pregnant) – euphemisms; mug (face), bloody (devilish) – vulgarisms.

e) Synonyms connected with the non-literal figurative use of words in pictorial language, e.g. walk of life (occupation, profession), star-gazer (dreamer).


  1. Antonyms. Types of antonyms.

Antonyms are defined as words of the same category of parts of speech which have contrasting meaning,e.g. hot – cold, light – dark, up-down, happiness – sorrow.

Antonyms fall into two main groups:

1. Root or absolute antonyms (those which are of different roots). These are words regularly contrasted as homogeneous sentence members connected by copulative, disjunctive conjunctions, or identically used in parallel constructions, in certain typical configurations (typical context).

e.g. He was alive – not dead (Shaw)

You will see if you were right or wrong

2. Derivational antonyms (affixal). The affixes in them serve to deny the quality stated in the stem. The contrast is implied in the morphological structure of the word itself.

e.g. appear – disappear, happiness – unhappiness, logical – illogical, pleasant – unpeasant.

There are typical affixes and typical patterns that take part in forming theses derivational antonyms. The examples of given below prefixes prevail. They have negative meaning (dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir-, un-).

As to the suffixes it should be noted that modern English gives no examples of words forming their antonyms by adding a negative suffix, e.g. the suffix –less (hopeless::hopefull, useless::useful).

In most cases when the language posesses words with the suffix –less, the antonymic pairs found in actual speech are formed with the prefix un-. Thus, the antonimic opposition is not selfish::selfless but selfish::unselfish

The diference between absolute and derivational antonyms is not only morphological but semantic as well. Thus, according to the relationship between the notions expressed antomyms may be characterized as contradictory (derivational antonyms) or contrary (absolute antonyms). A pair of derivational antonyms from a binary opposition, where the absolute antonyms are polar members of a gradual opposition,

e.g. young – old; beautiful:: pretty:: good-looking:: plain – ugly

Many antonyms are explained by means of the negative particle,

e.g. clean - not dirty; shallow – not deep

Not only words, but set expressions as well, can be grouped into antonimic pairs,

e.g. by accident – on purpose, up to par – below par

It is important to remember that antonyms form mostly pairs, not groups like synonyms,

e.g. above – bolow, absent – present, alike – different

Polisemantic words may have antonyms in some of their meanings and none in others. When criticism means ‘censure’ its antonym is praise; when it means ‘writing critical essays dealong with the works of some author’, it can have no antonym.



  1. Homonyms: words of the same form.

Homonyms are words which are identical in sound and spelling or, at least at one of these aspects, but different in their meaning and distribution.

e.g. bank, n – a shore

bank, n – an institution for receiving, lending, exchanging, and safe guarding money.

fit, n – perfectly fitting clothes

fit, n – a nervous spasm

The following joke is bases on these homonyms: “A tailor guarantees to give each of his customers a perfect fit”

There are several classifications of homonyms. The traditional formal classification of homonyms is as follows:

1.Homonyms proper (Absolute homonyms) are words identical in pronunciation and spelling,

e. g. Ball (м’яч) – ball (бал), to bore (свердлити) – bore (нудна людина), to bark (гавкати) – bark (кора)

2.Partial homonymssubdivided into:

a) homographs - words different in sound and in meaning but accidentally identical in spelling, e.g. bow (лук) – bow (ніс корабля), lead (свинець) – to lead (вести), row (ряд) – row (прогулянка на лодці), tear (розрив) – tear (сльоза).

b) homophones – words of the same sound but of different spelling and meaning, e.g. night (ніч) – knight (лицар), piece (шматочок) – peace (мир), rite (звичай, обряд) – to write (писати) – right (правильно), sea (море) – see (бачити) – C (літера алфавіту), bye (бувай) – by(біля), steel (сталь) – steal (красти).

The play-wright on my right thinks it right that some conventional rite should symbolize the right of every man to write as he pleases. In this sentence the sound complex [rait] is noun, adjective, adverb and verb, has four different spellings and six different meanings.

According to professor A.I. Smirnitsky’s classification homonyms may be classified into two large classes:





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