What if I told you there’s a tool that can expand your English vocabulary and improve your writing – and it’s 100% FREE? Would you be interested?
Well, there is such a tool, and it’s called a thesaurus. Learning to use a thesaurus is one of the best things you can do to develop your vocabulary and writing skills.
What A Thesaurus Can Do For You
A thesaurus can add style to your writing and make it more interesting to read. Consider this sentence:
I had a great vacation and did a lot of interesting things.
Is that an interesting sentence? No, not at all. But let’s put a few of these words into the thesaurus and see what comes up:
Now, let’s change our original sentence based on some suggestions from the thesaurus:
I had a marvelous vacation and enjoyed many fascinating experiences.
Which sentence makes you want to read further? I think you’ll agree the second sentence is more appealing than the first.
What Is A Thesaurus?
Like a dictionary, a thesaurus is a reference book for the English language. Unlike a dictionary, a thesaurus does not provide definitions. It provides synonyms and antonyms.
Synonyms are words with the same meaning. In the sentences above, great and marvelous are synonyms. Antonyms are words with opposite meanings. Great and poor are antonyms.
Using synonyms and antonyms helps you avoid repetition when you write. A thesaurus can also help you increase your vocabulary, as the average thesaurus has more than 100,000 words!
When To Use a Thesaurus
Sometimes, when writing a paper, business letter, or e-mail, you may struggle to find the exact word you mean. The thing to do is choose a word you know, and use a thesaurus to try and make it more precise. The thesaurus will give you a list of replacements for the first word you used.
For example, let’s say you want to say that something is very big. Well, big is a fine word, but does it express your exact meaning?
- If you’re talking about a mountain, you might say it’s colossal, humongous, or immense!
- If you’re talking about a room, maybe it’s spacious, or capacious!
- Or maybe you want to describe a package you received that was weighty, massive, or cumbersome?
Each of these words provides a more precise meaning of the word big.
Tips for Using a Thesaurus
Most thesauri provide a lot of information about a particular word. Depending on the thesaurus, they may provide information about the word’s part of speech, definition, synonyms, antonyms, and possibly additional notes. Use this information to make sure you select the correct word!
- Make sure you choose the correct meaning. For example, great means excellent, marvelous, or very good. But another meaning of great is large. Make sure that the synonym you choose has the same meaning as the word it is replacing.
- Be aware of the part of speech. Many English words may be used as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. For example, the word mind may be a noun (“Change your mind”) or a verb (“Please mind the store while I’m out”). Make sure you choose synonyms that have the same part of speech as the words you are replacing.
- Use an antonym and change the grammar. Sometimes, rather than find a synonym, pick an antonym and change the grammar of your sentence. For example, instead of saying, “It is cold outside,” you may say, “It is not very warm out.”
Where to Find a Thesaurus
- Online: One of my favorite thesauri is at http://www.thesaurus.com. I use this thesaurus all the time – add it to your bookmarks!
- Computer applications: Most word processing applications, such as Microsoft Word, have a built-in thesaurus. Just select the word you want to change, go to your Tools menu, and choose Thesaurus. A list of synonyms will appear.
- Print: The most well-known English thesaurus is Roget’s Thesaurus – it has been around since 1805! Other print thesauri also exist, including the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus for English language learners. Either of these would be good to put on your bookshelf.
A Final Warning
A thesaurus can add tons of words to your active vocabulary and make your writing more interesting, but please: don’t overdo it! Especially if your English is still basic – focus on core vocabulary before you start adding too many synonyms.
Even if you’re an advanced speaker, don’t use a new or rare word in every sentence. This can make your language sound unnatural, and difficult to understand. Be a little frugal (economical, careful, parsimonious, prudent, sparing, thrifty) when using a thesaurus.
What Do You Think?
Have you ever used a thesaurus? Do you have any tips you want to share, or questions to ask? Let us know in the comments section below!