When I write a text, I am sometimes looking for a very specific word, which might or might not be present in English (my brain knows that there is such a word, but sometimes it can't provide it because it knows it in another language). My usual approach in such case is to take a word which is close to what I need, type it into a thesaurus (I usually take thesaurus.com) and read the lists of synonyms in hope to find this exact "best" word. If I see a word among them which is closer, I search for its synonyms.

This is, however, time consuming, and sometimes I just hunt through chains of words which I think will take me closer to the goal, but in fact turn out to be less than ideal. I think I could fare much better with a service which provides me with words which are close to or exact synonyms to two or more words I have provided. For example, if I type sequence and order, it should give me synonyms like continuity, but not discipline (because discipline is a synonym for order, but not for sequence).

In the best case, this tool would also allow to search which are not exact synonyms, but closely related to the words I have provided as input. For example, if I gave it just sequence, it could then list series among the answers.

I know that good thesauri segment their answers by the meaning of the word, but while this is good enough for the above example, there are cases where it doesn't help, especially if the meanings I need to differentiate between are very close. So is there a tool which can provide that for me? Free and online would be perfect, but I am open to tools which I could afford (but not swiss knives of linguistic tools which can do that among other functions and cost thousands of dollars).

  • This is probably more appropriate for [meta]. I am not sure where the topicality regarding useful tools lies.
    – MrHen
    Jul 26, 2011 at 22:39
  • @MrHen If you post a question about tools on meta, someone will likely tell you they belong on main.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Aug 3, 2011 at 16:15
  • @z7sg: Sure. But that doesn't mean it actually does belong on main.
    – MrHen
    Aug 4, 2011 at 22:32

4 Answers 4


Let's assume that you are thinking of synonyms as words that are 'nearby' in meaning, so that the lexicon is one bug graph with edges. The synonyms of a given word is simply the neighborhood of its node

It seems like you are looking for the overlap of the neighborhoods of two different words.

Roget's and dictionary-like thesauruses expect that you have one word for which you are searching for many possible nearby words. In physical books or on-line, that is the limitation that you point out.

There is the on-line (but not totally free) service Visual Thesaurus that gives a graph representation of the nearness of words, from which it is easy to follow links from a given word in the direction of a second word.

In some sense you are kind of looking for a google-like double hit in a thesaurus, if both words appear in a single thesaurus entry. One can get this by using google directly with:

thesaurus sequence order

where you will find 'continuity' in the first word set in the first hit.


I think you might be looking for a reverse dictionary. It can be hit-or-miss, but OneLook has an online one.


A "real" thesaurus, like a not-so-pocket Roget's is not a dictionary of synonyms. It's organised conceptually, not alphabetically, and intended for browsing rather than for input-output. Using Google as suggested in Mitch's answer will work, but so will a proper dead tree edition of Roget's Thesaurus.


Google Sets can be good for this sort of thing, although the results can be a bit messy for anything other than very simple concrete nouns. As an example, if I enter your suggested terms (sequence and order), I get the following results:

  • sequence
  • order
  • sequencing
  • memory
  • temporal
  • monkey
  • neatness
  • cleaning
  • arrangement
  • orderliness
  • tidiness
  • regularity

Of those, only arrangement seems like a good fit to me (and monkey is completely bizarre). However, if we start with apple, banana, orange, and kiwi, we get these results:

  • orange
  • kiwi
  • apple
  • banana
  • pineapple
  • strawberry
  • grape
  • cherry
  • peach
  • watermelon
  • blueberry
  • tomato
  • cantaloupe
  • pumpkin

For certain types of searches, or for another arrow in your quiver, it can be useful.

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