With the vast nature of the English language, it’s natural that some words have overlapping meanings, or one word may have a very similar meaning to another word. And while these overlapping words are already a lot, you might also be confused about what to call these alike meaning words.
The word ‘synonyms’ is the most preferred way to describe two words that mean the same. ‘Synonym’ is straightforward with its meaning that when two words are synonymous, it means two words have almost or the same exact definition. Thus, making it the most appropriate word in any context.
Calling two words ‘synonymous’ is one way to indicate that two words mean the same thing. The word ‘synonym’ also follows an equal definition. However, it would be good to note that not all synonyms exactly mean the same, and there is still a most appropriate word for any context.
For example, ‘thin’ and ‘narrow’ maybe synonymous in a way. However, it seems off to describe a person as narrow or a road as thin. In that way, even if the two words mean the same, there is still a more preferred or appropriate word in a given context. It’s best to describe the road as narrow and a person as thin or skinny. But another synonym for the two words would be slim or slender, which we can use to describe either a person or a road.
Describing two words as ‘alike’ is another way of saying that the two are synonymous. In other contexts, it could also mean that two things are similar in a way. Many also prefer to use ‘alike’ as it still means similar, but does not imply exact duplicates.
The word ‘alike’ is also versatile as it is not only used to describe two words, but other things that are similar to each other. In the context of words or synonyms, we say ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ are two words alike. But, we can also say ‘both of you look alike’ or ‘the two of them dress alike’ to express similarity in visuals and fashion, respectively. Thus, saying two words are alike is another way of saying they mean the same thing.
The words ‘alike’ and ‘similar’ are synonyms, and in this context, they mean the exact same thing. Like ‘alike,’ describing two words as similar means that the two words have definitions that are almost the same or in some way alike, but it does not imply exactly the same.
The only difference between using ‘similar’ and ‘alike’ is the grammar rules or how we structure them in a sentence. We usually say that two words are alike, but when we use ‘similar,’ we say that the two are similar words. So, we say, ‘beautiful and pretty are words alike,’ but we say ‘beautiful and pretty are similar words.’ Despite this difference, the two phrases and words are still synonymous and mean the exact same.
‘Likewise’ is another synonym for ‘alike’ and ‘similar,’ and these three words mean that two words are alike or in the same way. Saying that two words are likewise is like saying that one word is also another. However, saying there are limitations in saying two words are likewise.
Saying that two words are likewise may imply that the two words mean exactly the same. For example, saying that ‘long and tall are likewise’ is the same as saying ‘long is also tall’ and implies that the two are interchangeable. However, saying that a person is tall may not have the same meaning as saying a person is long (this may also be totally improper and inappropriate). So, it’s best to use ‘likewise’ only for words that mean the exact same.
Describing two words as parallel is another way of saying the two are synonymous. However, there are limitations to saying this, as it implies that the two are exactly the same or their meanings are exact duplicates of one another, just like how parallel lines are.
The limitation in using the term ‘parallel’ is that not all synonymous words may exactly be the same as another. It means that they are similar but not exactly parallel. For example, ‘happy and joyful are parallel words,’ meaning they are exactly the same in this particular context. However, you can’t say ‘nerdy and smart are parallel words’ because the two words may not mean exactly the same. Smart may be a compliment, while nerdy may come off as something offensive.
Like the word ‘parallel,’ using the word ‘equal’ or ‘equivalent’ implies that two words mean exactly the same thing. In Math, equal or equivalent terms are usually interchangeable in positions. In the same way, saying words are equal implies that they are interchangeable with each other.
Using the term equal or equivalent may not be applicable in all cases, as not all synonyms are always interchangeable in all contexts. For example, the word ugly and horrible may be equals or equivalents when describing a person’s looks. However, ugly is not an appropriate equivalent of horrible when describing the taste of a food.
Describing two words are the ‘same’ is a graver version of saying two words are ‘similar’ or ‘alike.’ Unlike the two latter words, the word ‘same’ emphasizes or implies that the two given words are exactly the same. It’s another way of saying the two are equal or parallel.
However, describing something as ‘the same’ is not always applicable and varies depending on the context. In one context where two words are interchangeable, ‘Dirty and filthy are the same’ for example, here, ‘same’ works. However, there are also synonymous and similar words that aren’t exactly the same and are not interchangeable with each other.
Describing two words as ‘identical’ strongly implies that the two are exactly the same. A simple analogy for this is that, identical twins are usually twins that are almost exact duplicates of each other. In the same way, identical words imply they are duplicates or totally the same.
However, not all words are always the same. So, using ‘identical’ actually needs more caution, especially since it may give off a wrong meaning that two words are precisely the same but may not be the case all the time. For example saying ‘charm and beauty are identical words’ may be true for some individuals or in a given context, but it may not be the case for others or other contexts.
Saying two words are interchangeable directly means that the words are synonymous and interchangeable. It simply means that you could use both words in the given context. Given this, though, we only use it for two words that are precisely the same and appropriate for the said context.
For example, saying that ‘beautiful and pretty are interchangeable’ directly implies that you can use either of the two words in your sentence or the context you want to use it. However, we only use ‘interchangeable’ for two words that are precisely the same and interchangeable with each other, without any change of meaning.
We say words are redundant when they are put in the same sentence but mean the same thing. ‘Redundant’ actually means exceeding what is necessary, meaning there are more than the needed words to describe what you want to do so. In the same way, one can redact redundant words.
An example of redundancy is saying, ‘she was shy and bashful during the first day.’ Here, ‘shy’ and ‘bashful’ may be redundant as they mean the same thing. While keeping the sentence as is works also, one may also remove redundancy by keeping only one of the two words, and discarding or redacting the other.
Saying a phrase is tautologous is another way of saying that it is redundant, implying that there is an unneeded repetition of ideas in a sentence. Though these words are usually redundant, there are different tautologous phrases that we often use in everyday conversations.
An example of a tautologous phrase would be ‘adequate enough.’ Essentially, adequate and enough have the same meaning of being as much as required or needed. So, putting ‘adequate’ and ‘enough’ together may seem redundant, but many speakers still use it in various contexts and daily conversations.
Pleonasm is more of a linguistic style and expression. It is using redundant phrases and words, more words than necessary, to emphasize meaning and add more style. The word pleonasm, in it’s Latin origin, already means to be excessive, and so pleonasm also means being excessive in redundant phrases.
An example of pleonasm is saying ‘burning fire.’ Saying ‘burning’ and ‘fire’ becomes redundant, as saying ‘fire’ in itself already means it is burning. Another would be the phrase ‘hear with my own ears,’ which becomes redundant as the ears is the only way one can hear.
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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.