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Synonyms or synonyms (of ancient Greek συνώνυμος synōnymos "of the same name" or the derived therefrom noun συνωνυμία synōnymía "equality of the name", consisting of σύν syn "together" and ὄνομα ONOMA "Name") are linguistic or lexical expressions and signs that have the same or a very similar range of meanings . The relationship between synonyms is called synonymy or homosemy and represents an important semantic relationship that must be distinguished from other meaning relationships .

In particular, different words can be synonymous with one another, i.e. H. they have the same meaning in all contexts of use. The term “synonym” (as it is encountered in synonym dictionaries, for example ) is often referred to in a weaker sense, however, to words with a very similar meaning.

A word is therefore only synonymous in relation to another word. But since words are often ambiguous, there is synonymy, more precisely, between a certain reading of a word and another. Words with opposite meanings are called antonyms .

Concept of synonymy

The prerequisite for the concept of synonymy is the distinction between word and concept or, more generally, between the sign and the meaning of the sign. In the following, linguistic terms or designations are primarily used, and thus word and concept . A word can stand for several terms - as a homonym - and there can also be several words for one term - as synonyms. Words are synonyms for each other if they stand for the same term.

In the case of a term (in the broader sense) a distinction can be made between its content (its intension or the idea associated with the term ) and its scope (its extension or the subject matter or object covered by the term ). With this distinction, the term “meaning” is ambiguous, as it denotes both the intension of a term and the extension or both.

Synonymy in the sense of equality of meaning or similarity of meaning can therefore refer to the dimensional or the extensional meaning. Since intensional equality results in extensional equality, but not an extensive equality from extensional equality, there are two possible combinations: (a) Intensional and extensional equality of meaning (or similarity), and (b) dimensional difference and extensional equality (or similarity).

The case of intensional and extensional identity is rare. One could think of: "twelve" = "12" = "XII" = "twelve". In all cases, the expressions mentioned mean the concept of the number [twelve] in an intensional and thus in an extensional way.

As a case of intensional diversity and extensional equality, the example of Gottlob Frege “Evening Star” - “Morning Star” can be cited. Both words denote Venus, but each with a different conceptual content.

Extensional equality is widely regarded as sufficient as a synonymy criterion. Synonymy can then be defined as extensional congruence or as partial or complete “reference equality” of different signs. In terms of predicate logic, the truth value of a statement does not change if a predicate changes , but not the extension designated by the predicate. The criterion for synonymy is interchangeability without changing the truth value of a sentence, in other words salva veritate . In a similar sense, "interchangeability in contexts without causing a difference in meaning" is required as a criterion.

The salva veritate criterion is criticized by Willard Van Orman Quine as insufficient, since it leads to great difficulties in modal contexts. But Frege was also familiar with these problems in opaque contexts .

In contrast to the assumption that synonymy already exists when the same thing is referred to extensionally, this case of reference identity is sometimes delimited from synonymy and understood by it to be an intentional identity or similarity .

For the synonymy relationship, connotative differences, that is, secondary meanings and nuances and accompanying ideas caused by them, are generally disregarded. In the above numerical example, there should also be the same meaning in connotative terms. However, only in the ratio of “twelve” to “12”, as the use of the Roman numerals “XII” can be associated with higher education.

Overview of possible forms of synonymy
Intension Extension connotation example
= = = "Orange" = "Orange"
= = "Horse" = "nag"
= ... "Evening Star" = "Morning Star"
= ... not possible
Alternative examples according to G. Frege
Intension Extension connotation example
= = = "12" = "twelve"
= = "12" = "XII"
= ... "12" = "2 × 6"
= ... not possible

In principle, the view could be that for words that are supposed to be sufficiently precise linguistic representations of terms, there can be objectively no synonyms in the sense of having the same meaning, since the words would then also have to be the same. I.e. a word which does not resemble another in its shape would have to have a different meaning because it is not the same word. In legal formality , this principle is called the prohibition of synonyms , i. H. The same may not be referred to with different words, the same must always be referred to with the same word.

Strict and partial synonymy

A distinction is made between strict and partial synonymy (meaning similarity).

Strict synonymy (equality of meaning)

Strict synonymy (equality of meaning, synonymy in the strict, narrower sense) not only presupposes that two lexical signs have the same denotative meaning, but also that they are interchangeable in all contexts and have the same effect in all contexts.

Examples of strict pairs of synonyms in German are generally accepted: Orange - Orange ; Matchstick - matchstick .

However, the objection to this is that this type of synonymy for the orange - orange couple only applies to the northern half of the German-speaking area. In German-speaking Switzerland and Austria , for example , orange is clearly marked as Teutonism . This word as part of a text would clearly situate him as acting in northern Germany. In texts that are set in Switzerland or Austria, the word would sound strange and in Bavaria, too, the use would indicate a “newcomer” or vacationer. This example can therefore only be assessed as meaning similarity.

Even if the references are the same, "meaning differences" can arise: "Evaluation by the speaker (horse - Klepper), sociolect (money - peeping), dialect (girl - prostitute), stylistic language levels (room - chamber), political language use (attack - preventive strike) , Technical language (blood vein - vein), euphemism (die - go home), use of foreign words (inner city - city). "

The fact that only a few indisputable examples of strict synonymy are found is understandable from a linguistic economic point of view. The tendency to avoid redundancies in structuring the lexicon does not allow a large number of strict synonyms to arise in the vocabulary of natural languages. Nevertheless, the concept of strict synonymy can make sense in methodological terms, in order to mark an ideal reference point on an imaginary scale of equality of meaning.

Partial synonymy (meaning similarity)


An example of a non-strict pair of synonyms is jumbled - confused . Two example sentences:

1. "He looks a bit confused today." = "He looks a bit confused today."
2. "His speech today was a bit confused." ≠ "His speech today was a bit confused."

Partial synonyms are also called homoionymes . The following aspects of the connotative meaning mean that two lexical signs with the same denotative meaning do not meet the strict requirements of strict synonymy:

  • regional differentiation: butcher - butcher ; Bread rolls - Weckle - Roll - Schrippe
  • native word versus foreign word : elevator / elevator - elevator

In most everyday situations of use, the less strict criterion of substitutability salva veritate in typical contexts is sufficient to identify a pair of lexical signs as synonyms:

3. (a) "He's not using the genitive again." ⇐⇒ (b) "He's not using the Wesfall again."

The facts described in sentence 3a necessarily follow the facts described in sentence 3b and vice versa.

Briefly summarized: There is a similar or almost the same meaning for words and a relationship to equivalence .

Hyponymy as a special case of partial synonymy

Expressions for sub-terms of a common generic term ( cohyponyms ) form a special case of partial synonymy. The terminology is, however, inconsistent: Others do not want to include superordinate and subordinate relationships in the synonymy term - not even in partial synonymy.

For Aristotle , this is “the” form of synonymy at the beginning of his categories . There it says:

“Synonym is called what has the name in common and in which the expression belonging to the name, as far as the essence is concerned, is the same, for example the human being and the ox are one living being. Each of the two is named as a living being by a common name, and the expression is the same as far as the being is concerned ”.

In the example of Aristotle, the expressions “man” and “ox” denote the same semantic characteristic [living being], which is at the same time the generic term for man and cattle.

Forms of the synonyms

Synonym words, syntagms and sentences

The relationship of meaning identity or similarity of meaning does not only apply to words, but also - and “much more frequently” to word groups ( syntagms ) and whole sentences.

  • Examples:
"The lawn must be cut." - "The lawn must be cut."

Synonyms linguistic signs of various types

Synonymy does not only exist between lexical signs of the same type:

  • A einwortiges lexical character can with a mehrwortigen lexical signs be synonymous ( disturbing - butt in - get in the way )
  • A word formation medium can be synonymous with a one-word or multi-word lexical sign ( online - on the net )
  • Proper names, especially product names, can develop into generic terms and thus synonyms for the product name, for example Tempo for paper handkerchief.

From this point of view, the indication of a synonym appears as a form of definition and is related to the paraphrase , since in both cases it is about the "relation of sameness of meaning".

There are synonymous and nonsynonymic contexts. In synonymous contexts, words of a synonym group can be exchanged for one another despite their content and stylistic nuances, for example “laughing” for “neighing” or “photographing” for “recording / snapping”. In synonymous contexts, the differences in content are not updated, so that the basis for interchangeability is given. Only the similarities in content are addressed. A similarity arises from the special semen ( Sem = sign of meaning), which includes both equality and difference. It should be noted that the connotative difference (= the secondary meaning, accompanying meaning) cannot influence the establishment of synonymity, provided it does not cover up the denotative similarity. In non-synonymous contexts, however, the same words are not interchangeable because their specific contents are updated, emphasized. One could even speak of “instant antonyms” because in this context the distinguishing features become dominance seme, so that the actual synonyms are not interchangeable, but are in opposition, for example: Then I'll take a photo. Otherwise I'll take photos / That's not a comb, it's a rusty lice rake / I don't have a shop, I have a salon.

Intra-lingual (intralingual) - interlingual (interlingual) synonyms

The equality of meanings (similarity of meanings) of words (linguistic signs) can be considered within the language, but also between different languages.

Territorial duplicates

Territorial duplicates are also cited as a special case of synonymy . This is understood to mean “regional variants” of an expression that occur in larger areas than the dialects .

  • Example: Saturday / Saturday

Plesionymia (almost synonymy) (?)

Sometimes a “plesionymia” (almost synonymy) is spoken of, in which there is no reference identity, but the exchange only leads to a minimal change in reference.

  • Example: run - run

It is criticized that it is (almost always) a question of “stronger or weaker characteristics of a property concept”, so that these cases can and should simply be assigned to the “scalar relation”.


Pseudonyms as cover names, cover names or artist names can be understood as synonymous proper names.


Abbreviated symbols, such as the number “1” in the above numerical example, can be viewed as synonyms.

Synonymy in Linguistics

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, work was carried out on the concept and the effects of synonymy, especially in French linguistics and philosophy.

In generative-transformational grammar, the concept of synonymy is central.

With the synonymy term it is possible to identify paraphrase classes.

The synonym relation is important in lexicology or lexicography . Classically in the doctrine of the word field , lexicologically now also represented under the term Synset (see under word field).

The theory of word formation is based on a prohibition of synonymy : "According to the word formation rules, possible words are usually blocked if a word with the same meaning already exists."

Synonymy and abstraction

From a probably non-realistic, empirical standpoint, abstraction is constructed using the synonymy concept. "Meanings" are then "abstractions of expressions under synonymy". Anyone who speaks about the concept of a predicator is dealing with the predicator “taking into account synonymy”. In the wake of P. Lorenzen it is assumed that statements about concepts “are nothing more than invariant statements about predicates. A term / P / is always represented by a predicate P, it arises from this predicate through the described operation of abstraction, and indeed in the classical sense as its intention or intentional meaning ”.

Synonym dictionaries

Synonym dictionaries belong to the dictionaries with a limited information program. The related words are given for the respective keyword. Since absolute synonymy is rare, most dictionaries of this type tend to give meaning-like words. Users of these dictionaries must therefore have a high level of linguistic competence in order to be able to select the appropriate synonym for a particular context.

There are two types of synonym dictionaries:

  • distinctive synonymics specify the readings of polysemic lexemes and assign the meaning-like words to the respective reading (example: confused (person) - confused; mixed up (things) - chaotic, mixed, like cabbage and turnips); A distinctive synonym of German is Schülerduden. The right choice of words .
  • Cumulative synonymics assign the lexical signs similar to a lexeme to this lexeme without differentiating the readings; Duden Volume 8 is a cumulative synonym . The related words .

Synonyms dictionaries are often used to avoid repeating a word too often in a text. They can also be used for systematic vocabulary work in second language lessons.

See also


Synonymy in general

  • M. Lynne Murphy: Semantic Relations and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0-521-78067-5 .
  • D. Alan Cruse: Lexical Semantics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987, ISBN 0-521-25678-X .
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 .
  • John Lyons: Linguistic Semantics. An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995, ISBN 0-521-43877-2 .
  • Věra Kloudová: Synonymy and antonymy. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 2016, ISBN 978-3-8253-7534-8 .

Synonym dictionaries

  • Erich Bulitta , Hildegard Bulitta : The large lexicon of synonyms. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-596-16692-6 .
  • Erich Bulitta, Hildegard Bulitta: Dictionary of synonyms and antonyms. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-596-15155-4 .
  • Michael Kurz: The new dictionary of synonyms. 4th edition. Econ, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-548-75091-5 .
  • Annemarie Weber, Renate Morell: Put it more appropriately. 43rd edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-499-61388-3 (first edition: Stuttgart 1955).
  • Paul Grebe, Wolfgang Müller; Dudenredaktion (ed.): Comparative dictionary of synonyms. Related words and phrases. Mannheim 1964 (= The great Duden in 10 volumes. Volume 8), later editions as: The meaning and related words.
  • Wolfgang Müller (Ed.): Student dudes "The correct choice of words". Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1977, ISBN 3-411-01370-2 (first edition).
  • Wolfgang Müller (ed.): The meaningful and related words. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1997, ISBN 3-411-20908-9 , ( Duden. Volume 8).
  • Pharmaceutical history synonym key. In: Jörg Mildenberger: Dictionary. W – Z. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1997, pp. 2709-2784, ISBN 3-8260-1398-0 (= Anton Trutmann's “Pharmacopoeia”. Part 2, Volume 5).

Web links

Wiktionary: Synonym  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: synonym  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Pape , Max Sengebusch (arrangement): Concise dictionary of the Greek language. 3rd edition, 6th impression, Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1914. 1914, accessed on August 8, 2018 .
  2. ^ Metzler Lexicon Language. Edited by Helmut Glück u. Michael Röder. 5th update u. edit Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2016.
  3. Volker Harm: Introduction to Lexicology. WBG, Darmstadt 2015 (Introduction to German Studies), ISBN 978-3-534-26384-4 , p. 67.
  4. Dieter Wunderlich: Workbook Semantics. 2nd Edition. Hain, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-445-03051-0 , p. 348 f.
  5. ^ A b Dietrich Homberger: Subject dictionary for linguistics. Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-010471-8 (keyword synonym ).
  6. ^ Heike Krüger, Willi Krüger: Schülerduden philosophy. Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2002, ISBN 3-411-71262-7 (key word synonymous ).
  7. ^ Ingrid Kühn: Lexicology. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-484-25135-2 , p. 53 (additionally requiring a “match in the sem structure”).
  8. ^ Herbert E. Brekle: Semantics. 2nd Edition. Fink, Munich 1972, ISBN 3-7705-1181-6 , p. 90.
  9. ^ So Monika Schwarz, Jeanette Chur: Semantics. 5th edition. G. Narr, Tübingen 2007, p. 55.
  10. Monika Schwarz, Jeanette Chur: Semantics. - 5th edition - G. Narr, Tübingen 2007, p. 55 do not see this as a case of synonymy and instead speak of reference identity
  11. If one assumes the rule that numbers up to and including 12 are to be spelled out, the two expressions in a text differ in the degree of their grammaticality and thus possibly in their style level. Then it is assumed here that this is not a case of connotation.
  12. Here it is assumed that even the use of the Roman numeral "XII" is associated with higher, classical or antiquated etc. education.
  13. ^ Alan Cruse: Meaning in Language. An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004, ISBN 0-19-926306-X , p. 155.
  14. Winfried Ulrich: Dictionary of basic linguistic terms. 5th edition. Borntraeger, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-443-03111-0 (keyword hyponymy ).
  15. Veronika Haderlein: Semantics when working with central vocabulary. In: Stefan Langer, Daniel Schnorbusch (Ed.): Semantics. Narr, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8233-6099-X , p. 24.
  16. ^ So Volker Harm: Introduction to Lexicology. WBG, Darmstadt 2015 (Introduction to German Studies), ISBN 978-3-534-26384-4 , p. 67.
  17. Ingo W. Rath (Ed.), Aristoteles: Categoriae / The categories. Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-15-009706-1 , p. 7.
  18. a b Katja Kessel, Sandra Reimann: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language. Fink, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 168.
  19. Jerrold J. Katz: Semantic Theory. Harper & Row, New York 1972, ISBN 0-06-043567-4 , pp. 4-6. Quoted in: Dieter Wunderlich: Arbeitsbuch Semantik. 2nd Edition. Hain, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-445-03051-0 , p. 153.
  20. a b c Geo Siegwart: Term. In: Hans Jörg Sandkühler u. a. (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy. Meiner, Hamburg 1999, ISBN 3-7873-1453-9 , pp. 126-129.
  21. ^ So Volker Harm: Introduction to Lexicology. WBG, Darmstadt 2015 (Introduction to German Studies), ISBN 978-3-534-26384-4 , p. 69 fmwN
  22. a b c Herbert E. Brekle: Semantics. 2nd Edition. Fink, Munich 1972, ISBN 3-7705-1181-6 , p. 88.
  23. a b Schwarze / Wunderlich, introduction, in: Schwarze / Wunderlich, Handbuch der Lexikologie (1985), p. 7 (18)
  24. Mittelstraß: Concept and Word. In: Joachim Ritter, Karlfried Founder (Ed.): A – C. Schwabe, Basel 1971 ( Historical Dictionary of Philosophy. Volume 1), Column 785–786.