| Take your time! || Jun 24, 2004 |
It depends why you are looking up synonyms, e.g. whether you want to vary your language for reasons of style, or when you have found a technical term that does not fit the context. (Often the case when looking up words from one language to translate into another...)
It’s not easy! In English, my native language - I often just 'know' which synonym to use. But it's NOT infallible, so I usually check in one of the following ways.
1. Look up the synonyms you like best in the thesaurus, and see what other words appear - they are not all synonyms of the first, and this may give you an idea. You will see they approach the original concept from different angles.
E.g. FRIENDSHIP: affection, affinity, alliance, amity, attachment, benevolence, closeness, concord, familiarity, fondness, friendliness, good fellowship, goodwill, harmony, intimacy, love, rapport, regard.
AFFECTION: amity, attachment, care, desire, feeling, fondness, friendliness, goodwill, inclination, kindness, liking, love, passion, propensity, tenderness, warmth.
BENEVOLENCE: altruism, charity, compassion, fellow feeling, generosity, goodness, goodwill, humanity, kind-heartedness, kindness, sympathy.
INTIMACY: closeness, confidence, confidentiality, familiarity, fraternization, understanding.
REGARD is different yet again…
And so on! Benevolence and regard are more what you feel for people you don’t know personally, while other words cover your feelings for your own particular friends.
I use Collins Thesaurus, the ultimate wordfinder,
ISBN 0 00 470454-1.
It also gives proverbs, antonyms and other useful word lists.
2. Check your choice in a large ordinary dictionary that explains the meanings and, if possible, gives contexts.
3. You can search for the word on the Internet to find it in context – this is especially good for technical expressions. For instance, is ‘insert’ the same as ‘screw in’? You can often find the collocations and fixed expressions that match the word.
(You will need to use a longer phrase or a more unusual word for this however, or you will simply get a million useles hits.)
The British National Corpus http://thetis.bl.uk/
is helpful, and the free service is often quite sufficient.
Basically it is a matter of knowing the language well enough and developing your feeling for words – and being aware that you never can know it well enough in all situations!
[Edited at 2004-06-24 14:31]
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