What’s the difference between a synonym and an antonym?

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A few weeks ago I wrote about acronyms. There are other types of ‘onyms’ too, so this post takes a look at some other types. The suffix ‘onym’ means denoting a type of name or a word having a specified relationship to another (OED). ‘Suffix’ just means that the letters are at the end of the word, in contrast to prefix, wich is at the beginning. The term ‘onym’ comes from the Greek onoma ‘name’. Incredibly Wikipedia lists over fifty different words that end in the suffix onym.

What’s the difference between a synonym and an antonym?

A synonym is a word that means the same as another word, so it can be used as an alternative without changing the meaning. Online dictionaries often offer a list of synonyms, which can be useful for adding variety to your writing. Some examples of synonyms are: child and kid; large and big; minor and trivial; idle and lazy. The opposite of a synonym is an antonym, which is a word that means the opposite of the other word, so word pairings like: big and small; near and far; high and low.

What about homonyms and heteronyms?

Homonyms are words which sound or are spelled the same, but have a different meaning, such as bow (tied with a ribbon) and bow (used with an arrow); waist and waste; lead and led. Heteronyms are words that have the same spelling as another word but a different sound and meaning. Examples are: close (near) and close (to shut); polish (to make shiny) and Polish (from Poland); row (move boat with oars) and row (an argument).

Some sub-categories of homonym

To make matters slightly more complicated, you’ll also  come across the terms homophones and homographs (not strictly in the onyms category, but worthy of explanation). Homophones are words that sound the same but have a different spelling and meaning: bear and bare; pair and pare; rain, rein and reign. Then, there are homographs which are spelt the same but have a different meaning and can be pronounced the same or differently, like tear (product of crying) and tear (to rip apart), or pen (a writing implement) and pen (a compound for animals). Fowler (that well-known grammarian) explains that homophones and homographs are both types of the generic term homonym.

There are lots of other onyms and I’ll take a look at some more unusual ones like in the next blog post.

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