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Common Confusing Synonyms

What is a synonym? A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as another word, but is spelled in a completely different way. However, synonyms can be difficult to use appropriately. Although they may have the same meaning in one context, they may not have that same meaning in a different context. An otherwise flawlessly written essay may be ruined by the inappropriate use of a synonym. The following common synonyms often cause confusion in written English.

  • Jump/Spring

    In verb form, jump and spring mean the same thing. Should “spring” be changed into a noun, however, the meaning changes from describing an action to describing a season of the weather, as in fall, winter and spring. Also, “jump” is often associated with specific activities. The sentence “they jump rope” will not make much sense to an English audience if it is written “they spring rope.” However, should the words be used with a preposition, the substitution works. “I jump onto the platform” and “I spring onto the platform” have the same meaning.

  • Died/Expired

    These two words are frequently used interchangeably. “The patient has died” and “the patient has expired” are both correct uses. However, there are certain situations where substitution produces a peculiar effect. “The milk in the refrigerator has died” is inappropriate, while “the milk in the refrigerator has expired” is correct. In general, died and expired can be used interchangeably when speaking of living creatures. “Expired” should only be used to describe inanimate objects.

  • Run/Dash

    Much like jump and spring, run and dash are interchangeable as long as they are both in verb or gerund form. In a simple noun form, dash can refer to a symbol or line drawing. The sentences “I must run” and “I must dash” are both correct. However, while the sentence “he signed his name with a dash” is correct, “he signed his name with a run” makes no sense.

  • Smile/Beam

    To smile or beam at someone will undoubtedly make that person happy. However, attempting to use a smile as a construction element will only have tragic results. A beam has three distinct meanings. In verb form, it can be used interchangeably with smile. In noun form, beam refers to a physical support structure or the nautical term for the width of a ship.

  • Long/Extended

    Long and extended can mean the same thing, but they are not as easy to substitute. “The meeting ran long” and “the meeting was extended” both have the same meaning, but require the use of different verbs. However, while “the payment period was extended” is correct, “the payment period was long” does not mean the exact same thing.

  • Dresser/Bureau

    When referring to a piece of furniture, these two words are interchangeable. However, a “dresser” could also be a synonym for someone who arranges objects, just as a bureau could be a synonym for a large government department or agency. “The Federal Dresser for Investigation” makes as little sense as “a Hollywood set bureau.”

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