Differences Between Synonyms

Very often words are completely synonyms in the sense of being interchangeable in any content without the slightest alteration in objective meaning, feeling-tone or evocative meaning. But majority of them may have some distinctive features, which are listed below. These differences are the following:

1. Between general and specific;

2. Between shades of meaning;


A synonym is one of two or more words which have the same or nearly the same essential[1] (denotational) meaning. It is not a matter of mere likeness in meaning, but a likeness in denotation which may be expressed in its definition. The definition must indicate[2] the part of speech and the relations of the ideas involved in a term's meaning.

Synonyms, therefore, are only such words as may be defined wholly[3] or almost wholly in the same terms. Usually, they are distinguished from one another by an added implication or connotation, or may differ in their idiomatic use or in their implication[4].





Semantic structure of the word does not comprise an indissoluble unity (that is, actually, why it is

referred to as "structure"), nor does it necessarily stand for one concept. It is generally known that most

words implement several concepts and thus possess the corresponding number of meanings. A word having several meanings is called polysemantic, and the ability of words to have more than one meaning is described by the term polysemy.

Polysemy is certainly not an anomaly. Most English words are polysemantic. It should be noted that

the wealth of expressive resources of a language largely depends on the degree to which polysemy has

developed in the language. Sometimes it is claimed that a language lacks words if the need arises for the

same word to name different phenomena. Actually, it is exactly the opposite: if each word is found to be

capable of conveying at least two concepts instead of one, the expressive potential of the whole vocabulary

increases twofold. Hence, a well-developed polysemy is not a drawback but a great advantage in a language.

On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the number of sound combinations that human

speech organs can produce is limited. Therefore at a certain stage of language development the production of new words by morphological means becomes limited, and polysemy becomes increasingly important in providing the means for enriching the vocabulary. Hence, the process of enriching the vocabulary does not consist merely in adding new words to it, but, also, in the constant development of polysemy.

The system of meanings of any polysemantic word develops gradually, mostly over the centuries, as

more and more new meanings are either added to old ones, or oust some of them. So the complicated processes of polysemy development involve both the appearance of new meanings and the loss of old ones.

When analysing the semantic structure of a polysemantic word, it is necessary to distinguish

between two levels of analysis.

At the first level semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings. For example,

semantic structure of the noun fire could be roughly presented by this scheme (only the most frequent

meanings are given

The above scheme suggests that meaning I holds a kind of dominance over the other meanings

conveying the concept in the most general way whereas meanings IIV are associated with special

circumstances, aspects and instances of the same phenomenon.

Meaning I (generally referred to as the main meaning) presents the centre of the semantic structure

of the word holding it together. It is mainly through meaning I that meanings IIV (they are called secondary meanings) can be associated with one another, some of them exclusively through meaning I, as, for instance, meanings IV and V.

It would hardly be possible to establish any logical associations between some of the meanings of

the noun bar except through the main meaning. (Only a fragment of the semantic structure of bar is

presented so as to illustrate the point) [Fig.3].

Meanings II and III have no logical links with one another whereas each separately is easily

associated with meaning I: meaning II due to the traditional barrier dividing a court-room into two parts;

meaning III due to the counter serving as a kind of barrier between the customers of a pub and the barman.

One distinctly feels, however, that there is something that all these seemingly miscellaneous

meanings have in common, and that is the implication of deficiency, be it of colour (m. III), wits (m. II),

interest (m. I), sharpness (m. V), etc. The implication of insufficient quality, of something lacking, can be

clearly distinguished in each separate meaning.

In fact, each explanation of the meaning in the given scheme can be transformed to prove the point


This brings us to the second level of analysis of the semantic structure of a word. The

transformational operation with the meaning definitions of dull reveals something very significant: the

semantic structure of the word is "divisible", as it were, not only at the level of different meanings but, also,at a deeper level.

Each separate meaning seems to be subject to structural analysis in which it may be represented as

sets of semantic components. In terms of componential analysis, one of the modern methods of semantic

research, the meaning of a word is defined as a set of elements of meaning (semes) which are not part of the vocabulary of the language itself. The basic quality of a seme is an ability to combine in various ways with other similar elements (semes) in the meaning of different words: seme inferior pay be present not only in the meanings of the word dull but also in that of other words: bonehead (vulg.)


Thus, the scheme of the semantic structure of dull shows that the semantic structure of a word is not

a mere system of meanings, for each separate meaning is subject to further subdivision and possesses an

inner structure of its own.

Therefore, the semantic structure of a word should be investigated at both these levels: a) of

different meanings, b) of semantic components within each separate meaning. For a monosemantic word (i.e. a word with one meaning) the first level is naturally excluded.


Discussing polysemy we touched upon the advantages and disadvantages of this linguistic

phenomenon. One of the most important "drawbacks" of polysemantic words is that there is sometimes

danger of misunderstanding when the word is used in one meaning but understood by the listener or reader in another.


Teaching Pronunciation

Pronunciation involves far more than individual sounds. Word stress, sentence stress, intonation, and word linking all influence the sound of spoken English, not to mention the way we often slur words and phrases together in casual speech. 'What are you going to do?' becomes 'Whaddaya gonna do?' English pronunciation involves too many complexities for learners to strive for a complete elimination of accent, but improving pronunciation will boost self esteem, facilitate communication, and possibly lead to a better job or a least more respect in the workplace. Effective communication is of greatest importance, so choose first to work on problems that significantly hinder communication and let the rest go. Remember that your students also need to learn strategies for dealing with misunderstandings, since native pronunciation is for most an unrealistic goal.

A student's first language often interferes with English pronunciation. For example, /p/ is aspirated in English but not in Spanish, so when a Spanish speaker pronounces 'pig' without a puff of air on the /p/, an American may hear 'big' instead. Sometimes the students will be able to identify specific problem sounds and sometimes they won't. You can ask them for suggestions, but you will also need to observe them over time and make note of problem sounds. Another challenge resulting from differences in the first language is the inability to hear certain English sounds that the native language does not contain. Here are some ideas for focusing on specific pronunciation features.

  • Voicing
    Voiced sounds will make the throat vibrate. For example, /g/ is a voiced sound while /k/ is not, even though the mouth is in the same position for both sounds. Have your students touch their throats while pronouncing voiced and voiceless sounds. They should feel vibration with the voiced sounds only.
  • Aspiration
    Aspiration refers to a puff of air when a sound is produced. Many languages have far fewer aspirated sounds than English, and students may have trouble hearing the aspiration. The English /p/, /t/, /k/, and /ch/ are some of the more commonly aspirated sounds. Although these are not always aspirated, at the beginning of a word they usually are. To illustrate aspiration, have your students hold up a piece of facial tissue a few inches away from their mouths and push it with a puff of air while pronouncing a word containing the target sound.
  • Mouth Position
    Draw simple diagrams of tongue and lip positions. Make sure all students can clearly see your mouth while you model sounds. Have students use a mirror to see their mouth, lips, and tongue while they imitate you.
  • Intonation
    Word or sentence intonation can be mimicked with a kazoo, or alternatively by humming. This will take the students' attention off of the meaning of a word or sentence and help them focus on the intonation.
  • Linking
    We pronounce phrases and even whole sentences as one smooth sound instead of a series of separate words. 'Will Amy go away,' is rendered 'Willaymeegowaway.' To help learners link words, try starting at the end of a sentence and have them repeat a phrase, adding more of the sentence as they can master it. For example, 'gowaway,' then 'aymeegowaway,' and finally 'Willaymeegowaway' without any pauses between words.
  • Vowel Length
    You can demonstrate varying vowel lengths within a word by stretching rubber bands on the longer vowels and letting them contract on shorter ones. Then let the students try it. For example, the word 'fifteen' would have the rubber band stretched for the 'ee' vowel, but the word 'fifty' would not have the band stretched because both of its vowels are spoken quickly.
  • Syllables
    • Have students count syllables in a word and hold up the correct number of fingers, or place objects on table to represent each syllable.
    • Illustrate syllable stress by clapping softly and loudly corresponding to the syllables of a word. For example, the word 'beautiful' would be loud-soft-soft. Practice with short lists of words with the same syllabic stress pattern ('beautiful,' 'telephone,' 'Florida') and then see if your learners can list other words with that pattern.
  • Specific Sounds
    • Minimal pairs, or words such as 'bit/bat' that differ by only one sound, are useful for helping students distinguish similar sounds. They can be used to illustrate voicing ('curl/girl') or commonly confused sounds ('play/pray'). Remember that it's the sound and not the spelling you are focusing on.
    • Tongue twisters are useful for practicing specific target sounds, plus they're fun. Make sure the vocabulary isn't too difficult.
    • The Sounds of English, American Accent Training, and EnglishClub.com websites below offer guidelines for describing how to produce various English sounds. You can find representative practice words for every English sound on the English is Soup site.

Here are some resources for teaching pronunciation.

  • Sounds of English
    Mouth diagrams and photographs; instructions for producing selected English sounds, word stress, sentence stress, and intonation; many example sound clips to play with audio software such as RealPlayer (free).
  • American Accent Training: Pronunciation
    The most common trouble sounds in English and how to pronounce them.
  • EnglishClub.com English Pronunciation - Pronunciation for ESL learners
    Guides to word and sentence stress, linking, pronunciation of '-ed' and 'the,' and other topics.
  • Some Techniques for Teaching Pronunciation
    Detailed instructions for two pronunciation activities.
  • English is Soup: A Phonics Resource For ESL Adults
    Mouth diagrams and representative words showing various spellings for every English sound; short introduction to rules of pronunciation based on spelling; PDF format.
  • The Tongue Twister Database
    Large collection of tongue twisters to practice specific sounds.

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