Posts Tagged ‘synonyms’


July 31, 2018


The next few posts in the column SYNONYMS AND ANTONYMS will be devoted to the lexical field “Mental Power; Aptitude.”

Here the first group of words: proficient, adept, skilled, skillful, accomplished, expert. All these adjectives mean having or showing knowledge, ability, or skill, as in a profession or area of study.

PROFICIENT implies an advanced degree of competence acquired through training: to be proficient in Greek or Latin. Antonyms: to be ignorant, to be (next to) a zero (in, at).

ADEPT suggests a natural aptitude improved by practice: became adept at cutting a fabric without using a pattern. Antonyms: to be unskilled, untalented, immature (may also be opposed to SKILLED and SKILLFUL)

SKILLED implies sound, thorough competence and often mastery, as in an art, craft, or trade: a skilled gymnast who won an Olympic medal.

SKILLFUL adds to SKILLED the idea of natural dexterity in performance or achievement: is skillful in the use of drum sticks.

ACCOMPLISHED bears with it a sense of refinement after much training and practice: an accomplished violinist who played the sonata flawlessly. Antonyms: bungling, clumsy, inept (an inept actor, inept performance, a bungling workman, he made a bungle of the case due to inexperience)

EXPERT applies to one with consummate skill and command: an expert negotiator who struck a deal between disputing factions. The closest antonym: green (lacking training or experience: green recruits, green in business).



July 6, 2018




A bit of history. The English SPEAK is related to the German sprechen. The “r” in the Old Germanic word DISAPPEARED when it started being used on the British Isles. The similar loss of the sound “r” occurred in the Middle English word prange  (pronge) which nowadays has the form pain, but which is preserved as prong(in a pitchfork, for instance).  With the word TALK, however, the picture is the opposite: the diminutive formant “k” was ADDED to the earlier word existing now as tale. The same process of adding “k” is observed in the words hear and smile that ramified into hark and smirk.

In Modern English the demarcation line between SPEAK and TALK is sometimes so clear that even an ESL-beginner can differentiate between the two words: for example, the teacher says, “Stop talking!” and “Speak English!”, in which situations the words SPEAK and TALK are not interchangeable. There is a vast number of set expressions and collocations where these lexical units are fixed: to speak one’s mind, to speak the truth, these facts speak for themselves,  “Could I speak to…” – Speaking!“(phone conversation), plain-spoken, smooth-spoken. Or, on the other hand: the baby can talk, money talks, talk is cheap, chalk and talk(a teaching method when no technical aids are used), to talk the talk and walk the walk(to support one’s talk with equivalent actions), A fool talks, but a wise man speaks, etc.

On the basis of the above examples, a language user can crystallize certain components of meaning which may be assigned to each word in question: “more general, more formal, more one-directional” (for SPEAK) and “more concrete, more informal, more bi- (or multi) directional” (for TALK). These components may be intensified and/or adjusted by the use of the prepositions TO and WITH.  Examples:

  • My wife hates being interrupted when she talks to me(TALK is used with TO activating the component “one-directional” but the word preserves the component “informal”);
  • The health cardiologist will talk with guests about the signs of a heart attack and when to call 911 (according to the situation, instead of TALK WITH the phrase SPEAK TO should have been used, but the more informal TALK and the bi-directional character of WITH “soften” the official character of the cardiologist’s address and imply some feedback on the part of the listeners). Or, in the sentence
  • The toddler often talks with her teddy bear, the direction of communication is definitely one-sided, but the preposition WITH introduces the component of a human dialogue. This “human” component is absent in Artificial Intelligence devices, which is why not WITH but TO is used in the following sentence (though the multi-directionality of the communication is apparent):
  • To make America’s roads safer, cars should talk to each other over a wireless car-to-car network rather than relying on drivers’(CNN).

SPEAK WITH versus SPEAK TO is an interesting example of a divide between the British and American English. The one-sided (and more official) character of SPEAK TO was prevalent in the 18-19thcentury British English, while SPEAK WITH was stigmatized as a lower-class variant. In the American English SPEAK WITH was quite normal for all spheres of usage, but gradually, under the influence of the American English, SPEAK WITH started being more acceptable in the British English. On the other hand, the Americans say that their President SPEAKS TO the nation (not WITH the nation). Although, a British linguist who researched this linguistic phenomenon, says that Laura Bush, the wife of President George W. Bush while speaking on the radio, addressed her audience with the words “I’m so glad to be speaking WITH you!” To the British people, it sounds rather odd.

Since we have touched upon the preposition WITH, as it is used in communication, it’s worth mentioning that the word VISIT is never followed by WITH in the British English: the British people say “to visit friends”, not “to visit WITH friends,” as is the case in the American English (unless two or more people visit a third party, of course). The British English also differentiates between “to MEET” (used on its own) and to “MEET WITH”: I met my friend(e.g. in the street), or I met with him to discuss this problem(a duration of the meeting is implied). In the British English, unfavorable circumstances are emphasized when MEET WITH is used: He met with insurmountable difficulties.




February 7, 2018



The essence of modern approach to foreign language teaching is expressed in the formula: HEAR it – SAY it – READ it – WRITE it. I’m going to use the key words of this methodological motto to dwell on synonyms in several of my next posts. This time, the object of analysis will be the first word – the verb HEAR.

Hear” is a Germanic word, though Webster’s Etymological Dictionary traces it to Greek and Latin roots. The related word in Latin is cavere, which means “to be on guard.”

One of the difference between “hear” and “listen” (which is, probably, the closest in this meaning) is that the component “with attention” is more strongly expressed in the meaning of “hear” than in “listen.” Hence, another synonym of the word “hear”: HEED. The focus on attentive apprehension gave a start to the development of the meaning “to gain information”: (“I heard that…”), which makes the word “hear” synonymic to LEARN, FIND OUT, etc. One of recent developments is the meaning “to entertain the idea” (used in the negative): <I wouldn’t hear of it> The latest meaning that I registered is “to feel (with)”, like in the dialogue:

Man, I’m so tired!  —  I hear you, bud. We worked out pretty hard today!

Roget’s Dictionary gives the following synonymic groups:

Catch // listen // lip-read // listen in, tune in, tune to // overhear, eavesdrop, listen at keyholes, keep one’s ears open // bug, tap // hark, hearken, list // lend an ear, give an ear, bend an ear, be all ears, give audience to, give hearing, attend to, hang on the lips of, lap up // strain one’s ears, prick up one’s ears, listen with both ears // hear it said, hear it on or through the grapevine.

I’d like to draw the readers’ attention to another colloquial synonym: “lap up” (“to hear and accept the information with enthusiasm”): <Of course, they believed it. They just lapped it up>, or <They lapped up the lies without questioning anything>. Nowadays, in the epoch of fake news, one should take any info with a pinch of salt, and not lap it up  🙂




December 11, 2017

'We are all accountable, but some are more accountable than others.'


Whether one is accountable, liable, or responsible, one is in charge and should be able to explain what happened. Accountable implies the possibility of some sort of punishment <If something goes wrong, you’ll be held accountable>. Being liable means there is probably going to be some sort of legal punishment <No jury would find you liable after you’ve been through>. Being responsible implies that one holds an office, or acts like one who does <Being the president makes me responsible for their lack of expertise>.


Keep in mind that often, but not always, affect is used as a verb and effect as a noun. Affect is the right choice in the senses “to put on, to make a pretense of, to tend toward” <She affected the style of Jackie O> <He affected grave concern although he couldn’t care less> or “to influence, move, persuade, or sway” <A Shakespearean drama will affect a crowd like no other play>. Effect is, on the other hand, used for the meanings “result” <When you take part in such ventures, bankruptcy is often the effect>, “influence” <Do you think playing computer games can have such an effect on the minds of young people?>, or “impression” <All those piled-up magazines give the effect of an intellectual atmosphere>, as well as “personal belongings” when used in the plural <She left some fascinating effects when she died>. There are, however, cases where effect is used as a verb meaning “to cause or bring about” <How could the president effect a treaty with those swine?>. There’s also the little-used sense of affect as a noun in psychology meaning “something that arouses emotions; an affective state”< Positive affects broaden, whereas negative affects narrow cognative scopeIn general, though, it’s best to keep in mind that something that affects you will undoubtedly have an effect upon you.


To allude to something is “to mention indirectly” <In resigning, she alluded to her “past indiscretions,” but no one knew what they were>. To refer is to “mention directly” <She referred to her past indiscretions, defending each as a result of her illness>


November 22, 2017


THINK The synonymic field with the headword “THINK” having the meaning: “to use one’s power of conception or judgment in regard to any matter or subject which concerns or interests one, is rather extensive.

COGITATE. To “think” is the general term when it goes about mental activity for the sake of forming ideas or reaching conclusions. However, this word does not stress the character of thinking, as the word COGITATE does. COGITATE suggest the atmosphere of profound thinking, of which some result is expected <still COGITATING and looking for an explanation… – Dickens>  <Mrs. Berry had not COGITATED long ere she pronounced distinctly and without a shadow of dubiosity: “My opinion is…” – Meredith>

REFLECT  implies a turning of one’s thoughts back to something that exists, has occurred or needs reexamining. It implies quiet, unhurried, and serious consideration or study <…stood REFLECTING on the circumstances of the preceding hours – Hardy> <All the important things in his life , [he] sometimes REFLECTED, had been determined by chance – Cather> <began to study its organization, REFLECT on its psychology…and ponder the results – Shirer>

REASON is mainly about consecutive logical thought, beginning with a postulate, a premise, or evidence and proceeding to a conclusion or judgment <no man as near death as I was feeling, could, I REASONED, be absorbed by such trifles – Lucas>

SPECULATE is similar to REASON but stresses the uncertainty of argumentation or the incompleteness of the data and therefore usually imputes a hypothetical or theoretical character to the conclusion reached <the two women SPECULATED with deep anxiety on whether or not little Pamela had died of exposure – Cheever><…philosophers have SPECULATED on the question of God for thousands of years>

DELIBERATE suggests slow and careful reasoning and fair consideration of various aspects in an attempt to reach a conclusion often on a matter of public interest <the future relations of the two countries could not be DELIBERATED on with a hope of settlement – Froude>

PONDER has the implication of weighing and suggests consideration of a problem from all angles in order that nothing important will escape one. In this respect the word. The difference between PONDER on the one hand, and WEIGH and CONSIDER on the other, is that the last two words imply fixing the mind on something in order to increase one’s knowledge or understanding of it or to solve a problem involved in it. PONDER does not contain that element of “increasing.” <the great master was wont…to…spend the day PONDERING the subjects of his brush by the side of running streams – Binyon>

MEDITATE adds to PONDER the idea of focusing one’s thought for the purpose of understanding the thing in all its aspects.

MUSE comes close to MEDITATE in implying focused attention  but it suggests a less intellectual aim; often it implies absorption and a languid turning over of a topic, as if in a dream, a fancy, or a remembrance <let him read a certain passage of full poesy  or distilled prose , and let him wander with it , and MUSE upon it … and dream upon it – Keats> <still a pleasant mystery; enough to muse over on a dull afternoon – Davis>

RUMINATE implies a going over the same problem (object of meditation) again and again. But it does not carry as strong a suggestion of WEIGHING as PONDER, or concentrated attention as MEDITATE, or of absorption as MUSE, and it more often implies such processes as REASONING and SPECULATION <I sit at home and RUMINATE on qualities of certain little books like this one,… which I can read again and again – L.P.Smith> <forty years on RUMINATING on life, of glimpsing it in its simplest forms through microscopes – Kaempffert>

CONSIDER is an applying of one’s mind but sometimes it also carries such a restricting implication as that of a definite point of view <in the last paragraphs we have considered science as a steadily advancing army of ascertained facts – Inge> or as that of thinking over <the publishers told him they would CONSIDER his book> < marriage is an action too freely practiced and too seldom adequately CONSIDERED>

CONTEMPLATE implies, like MEDITATE, the focusing of one’s attention upon a thing and a close dwelling upon it; the term, however, does not always carry a clear implication of the purpose or result. When the object on which the mind rests is a plan, a project, or an imaginative conception, CONTEMPLATE usually suggests its formulation in detail or its enjoyment as envisioned <Herbert bent and kissed her cheek. The moment and the act he had CONTEMPLATED for weeks with a thrill of pleasure – Hardy> When the object contemplated lies outside the mind, the term suggests an attempt to increase one’s knowledge and comprehension of it through minute scrutiny and meditation <while science CONTEMPLATES a world of facts without values, religion CONTEMPLATES values apart from facts – Inge> <…nature is beautiful only to the mind which is prepared to apprehend her beauty , to CONTEMPLATE her for her own sake…– Alexander>

WEIGH implies evaluation of something and especially of one thing in respect to another, it suggests an attempt to get at the truth by balancing <to WEIGH evidence> <observations are not to be numbered, they are to be WEIGHED – Ellis>

EXCOGITATE implies the application of one’s mind to something so that one may find the solution of the problem involved  <EXCOGITATE a plan whereby poverty may be relieved without unduly burdening the taxpayers><Scientist must stop to observe and start to EXCOGITATE>

MULL. I didn’t find in dictionaries any special features that distinguish the word MULL (OVER) from the words RUMINATE, PONDER, CONSIDER. It looks like the word is more colloquial than these three, and more recent in origin (the first quarter of the 19th century). Here are some contemporary examples from the Web: < A group of friends gathers to MULL over what to do with a day off><Clearly, the attorney has already begun to MULL his options> <Residents MULL it over in daily conversations: whose apartment was robbed last night?>


November 9, 2017

How to read book.IGNORANT

Ignorant, illiterate, unlettered, uneducated, untaught, untutored, unlearned mean not having knowledge.

One is ignorant who is without knowledge, whether in general, or of some particular thing <the disputants on both sides were ignorant of the matter they were disputing about – Ellis> <An ignorant person may be dangerous> <I confess I’m ignorant of mathematics>.

 One is illiterate who is without the necessary rudiments of education. The word may imply a failure to attain a standard set for the educated and cultivated person <you may read all the books in the British Museum (if you could live long enough) and remain an utterly illiterate, uneducated person – Ruskin). In its original meaning the word implies inability to read or write. Functionally illiterate is used in the sense that a person is unable to understand what he reads <illiterate voters>. When applied to the violation of English usage, the word illiterate means that the speaker/writer uses English below the status of what is considered to be standard (most teachers would stigmatize the expression “I seen it” as illiterate. The word, however, is often used merely as a contemptuous description of one that shows little evidence of education or cultivation <his speech is positively illiterate> or shows inability to read and understand <it is common knowledge that our professional students and candidates for the PhD are illiterate. One thing you learn very quickly in teaching students at the loftiest levels of education is that they cannot read – Hutchins> Another meaning of illiterate: not well-read or versed in literature: <classes for illiterate soldiers> <an illiterate mathematician>

One is unlettered who is without the learning that is to be gained through the knowledge of books. Often it implies being able to read and write, but with no facility in either reading or writing <unlettered peasants>

One is uneducated, untaught, untutored, unlearned who either has no training in the schools or under teachers or whose ignorance, or crudeness, or general lack of intelligence suggests such a lack. None of the words, however, is used with great precision or in a strict sense <untutored mind>, <experiences of an unlearned man in search for truth and understanding –– Brit. Book News> <taught so many flat lies that their false knowledge is more dangerous than the untutored natural wit of savages – Shaw>

Analogous words: obtuse, in the dark, benighted, naïve, blind to, shallow, green, unenlightened, unknowledgeable, unread, unschooled, untrained, unwitting, witless

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