Is there any dictionary or similar for comparing and contrasting related/synonym words, such as for ex. "swing" vs "sway", or "ask" vs "inquire"?

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    Hello Aleks. This is a very sensible question and I'd like to have the availability of such a work myself, but requests for resources are off-topic on ELU. Some dictionaries give usage notes which attempt to show areas of interchangeability of synonyms, and different shades of meaning. Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 7:46
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a request for (what would be a very useful) resource. Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 7:47
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    Not sure why this is in meta? Any way, definitely a useful concept to look up is synsets. With some knowledge about coding you can easily use e.g. Wordnet's python library to get synset information. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 16:56
  • @BramVanroy: It's in Meta because some people are in favor of misusing Meta to house "resource requests".
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 3:30
  • @BramVanroy A necessary evil, of sorts. We have agreed to tolerate a few good ones which will benefit the whole of ELU and not just the OP. But it's not officially on topic, so don't tell people this. Look for "what sort of resource requests do we accept?" on meta.
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 2:38

3 Answers 3


A very nice book which seems to be exactly what you want is the following:

Penguin guide to synonyms and related words

For a large number of words it analyses the nuances of the different synonyms.

To show you the book structure, I scanned an example page. You can see that for each key word there's a list of synonyms (the full word list can be found in the index at the end of the book), and for each synonym the text discusses its level of formality, its usage etc.

enter image description here

  • Looks like a good find. Do you have a copy with you? Can you quote an example like 1006a did? Does it come in an online version as well?
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 3:03
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    @NVZ Yes, I have a copy, and I'll quote an example in a couple of weeks when back from vacations. I'm not aware of any online version. Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 3:50
  • @NVZ Have a look at the edit: I preferred to scan a page to give a better idea of the structure. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 16:09
  • I'm looking at it. It's nice. You already have my upvote. :)
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 16:10

Online, Merriam-Webster often has a "Synonym Discussion" under its Dictionary entries that directly compares and contrasts selected synonyms. For example, under the entry for swing it says in part

SWING implies a movement of something attached at one end or one side. ⟨• the door suddenly swung open⟩ SWAY implies a slow swinging or teetering movement. ⟨• trees swaying in the breeze⟩

You'll need to scroll down past the definition-proper, examples, and etymology to get to this discussion, and not every entry has it. Note that M-W also has a Thesaurus tab, which takes you to a more traditional list of synonyms.

Off-line, many print thesauruses include similar kinds of discussion. Your local library or bookstore likely has a selection of these that you could browse.


My personal choices for synonym-related dictionaries are:




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    Hello, kartoniks. Does any of these go beyond merely providing a list of words which may be interchanged in certain situations? Would they for example explain any slight differences in meaning / connotation between the words 'abstruse' and 'recondite'? Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 12:54

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