A synonym is a word that has the same meaning or a close meaning to another word. For example, beautiful is a synonym of attractive, pretty, and gorgeous. The word synonym itself is rarely used in everyday English. A word that means the opposite of another is called an antonym. Such words are often used by writers so that the same words are not repeated again and again.
The word “synonym” is derived of a Latin root, and translates literally to “same name.” The word transitioned from Latin, through the German language, landing in the Middle English vocabulary, and remaining into modern-day English. Synonyms must be two words included in the same language; English words, which share meanings with Spanish words, are not synonymous.
Many writers use synonyms as a writing tool. Using this tool is seen as preferable to overusing the same word repetitively. Reading a repeated word, however, is often used for dramatic effect in writing; if the writer is not reaching for dramatic effect, the reader may be turned off the manuscript. Switching words moves sentences and helps readers maintain interest.
As a part of speech, the synonym is a versatile tool. It is used to convey meaning as well as change the reading level of a piece of work. A newspaper written on a third-grade reading level will use simple words while a piece of work written on a collegiate reading level will use more complex synonyms of the same simpler, third-grade words. A publication will target certain reading audiences by using either simple or more complex synonyms within its published works.
Readers use this method of word placement to help glean meaning from context clues. As a reader moves along a piece of work, he or she will encounter an unfamiliar word and continue reading, encountering context clues within the sentence or paragraph. Often, the context clues are synonyms to the unfamiliar word and will provide meaning for the reader.
Teachers use the context clue method to help teach students how to read and identify a synonym. Elementary school students will learn basic vocabulary, then expand upon that vocabulary with synonyms; the teacher will parallel the new word to a word previously learned to teach the definition of the new word as well as the concept of the synonym. Students also learn to find meaning within a text using synonyms as well as context clues; teachers help students understand the synonym concept in early elementary school to give students a better understanding of finding meaning within context.