Lexicology of the English Language

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Synonyms are words different in their outer aspects, but identical or similar in their inner aspects. In English there are a lot of synonyms, because there are many borrowings, e.g. hearty / native/ - cordial/ borrowing/. After a word is borrowed it undergoes desynonymization, because absolute synonyms are unnecessary for a language. However, there are some absolute synonyms in the language, which have exactly the same meaning and belong to the same style, e.g. to moan, to groan; homeland, motherland etc. In cases of desynonymization one of the absolute synonyms can specialize in its meaning and we get semantic synonyms, e.g. city /borrowed/, town /native/. The French borrowing city is specialized. In other cases native words can be specialized in their meanings, e.g. stool /native/, chair /French/.

Sometimes one of the absolute synonyms is specialized in its usage and we get stylistic synonyms, e.g. to begin/ native/, to commence /borrowing/. Here the French word is specialized. In some cases the native word is specialized, e.g. welkin /bookish/, sky /neutral/.

Stylistic synonyms can also appear by means of abbreviation. In most cases the abbreviated form belongs to the colloquial style, and the full form to the neutral style, e.g. examination, exam.

Among stylistic synonyms we can point out a special group of words which are called euphemisms. These are words used to substitute some unpleasant or offensive words, e.g the late instead of dead, to perspire instead of to sweat etc.

There are also phraseological synonyms, these words are identical in their meanings and styles but different in their combining with other words in the sentence, e.g. to be late for a lecture but to miss the train, to visit museums but to attend lectures etc.

In each group of synonyms there is a word with the most general meaning, which can substitute any word in the group, e.g. piece is the synonymic dominant in the group slice, lump, morsel. The verb to look at is the synonymic dominant in the group to stare, to glance, to peep. The adjective red is the synonymic dominant in the group purple, scarlet, crimson.

When speaking about the sources of synonyms, besides desynonymization and abbreviation, we can also mention the formation of phrasal verbs, e.g. to give up - to abandon, to cut down - to diminish.


Antonyms are words belonging to the same part of speech, identical in style, expressing contrary or contradictory notions.

V.N. Comissarov in his dictionary of antonyms classified them into two groups : absolute or root antonyms /late - early/ and derivational antonyms / to please - to displease/ . Absolute antonyms have different roots and derivational antonyms have the same roots but different affixes. In most cases negative prefixes form antonyms / un-, dis-, non-/. Sometimes they are formed by means of suffixes -ful and -less.

The number of antonyms with the suffixes ful- and -less is not very large, and sometimes even if we have a word with one of these suffixes its antonym is formed not by substituting -ful by less-, e.g. successful -unsuccessful, selfless - selfish. The same is true about antonyms with negative prefixes, e.g. to man is not an antonym of the word to unman, to disappoint is not an antonym of the word to appoint.

The difference between derivational and root antonyms is not only in their structure, but in semantics as well. Derivational antonyms express contradictory notions, one of them excludes the other, e.g. active- inactive. Absolute antonyms express contrary notions. If some notions can be arranged in a group of more than two members, the most distant members of the group will be absolute antonyms, e.g. ugly , plain, good-looking, pretty, beautiful, the antonyms are ugly and beautiful.

Leonard Lipka in the book Outline of English Lexicology describes different types of oppositeness, and subdivides them into three types:

: 21/06/2009