A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:
More about dictionaries of synonyms can be found here.
A dictionary of collocations shows how a word can be combined with other words and parts of speech:
Read more about dictionaries of collocations here.
Finally, a thesaurus is built on concepts and ideas and will give you lots and lots of closely and more remotely related words and expressions:
A thesaurus gives you ample opportunity to vary your text, but you need to understand nuances in meaning. Under Vb. (Verb) we find neutral phrases such as be in charge and have overall responsibility but also expressions from working life such as take the helm (of a ship), take the chair (lead a meeting) and hold the reins (of a horse). We also find more informal phrases such as wear the trousers, which implies someone who is in control and makes decisions. You would not use that expression in a serious text about the CEO of a company!
A dictionary is a list of words and their definitions. A thesaurus (plural thesauri or thesauruses) does not give definitions of words but lists words grouped together according to their meaning.
The first modern thesaurus, published in 1852 by Peter Mark Roget, is still widely used. The book is organised according to ideas or concepts. You first look up a word in the index in the second half of the book, where you will find one or several synonyms for that word, each with a reference number. Under production, for example, in my copy of Roget’s I find the words product, production and dramaturgy. The first two words refer to section 164 and the third to 594 (having to do with drama and ballet). Here you can see a part of section 164 (the numbers before some of the words refer to further sections in the book):
You will notice the richness of expressions here. There are concrete words such as thing, designer and skyscraper and more abstract ones such as attempt, productivity and idea. When you use a thesaurus like this, you need to understand nuances in meaning.
en.oxforddictionaries.com/thesaurus collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-thesaurus merriam-webster.com/thesaurus and others.
The Longman Language Activator is in a way similar to Roget’s; it is based on concepts. However, it is called a production dictionary instead of a thesaurus – it will help writers produce their ideas. Here is a part of the entry on manager:
Often the word thesaurus is used to denote a dictionary of synonyms or any kind of dictionary.
You can see a comparison between different types of dictionaries here.
A synonym is a word with the same or almost the same meaning as another word. Occur is a synonym for happen; generally and usually are synonyms and so are big, large and great. An antonym is the opposite of a synonym.
Synonyms are useful for creating variation in a text. Instead of writing nice several times, you can use pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, charming, etc.
You must understand that there are nuances; one synonym may have a slightly different meaning than another and there may also be differences in usage. You can read more about this soon in a blog post I intend to write about large, big and great.
Before you decide to use a certain synonym you must be sure (1) that the word you choose has the meaning you intend and (2) that it is used in a correct way.
Examples of printed dictionaries of synonyms are Collins English Thesaurus Longman Synonym Dictionary Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms You can get them from your bookshop or, e.g., Amazon, Bokus or Adlibris.
The following resources, among others, can be found online:
You are an expert in your field, but there will be times when you need to look up a word to make sure your English is correct.
The first resource that comes to mind if you are a non-native English writer is a bilingual dictionary. You use a German–English, an Italian–English, a Swedish–English, etc. dictionary. There are general wordbooks, but you may need a specialised dictionary. For Swedish writers the standard work is Ingvar E. Gullberg: Svensk–engelsk fackordbok för näringsliv, förvaltning, undervisning och forskning [A Swedish–English dictionary of technical terms used in business, industry, administration, education and research] (Norstedts, 2000). With over 200 000 headwords it is the largest specialised dictionary in Sweden. It is also available as internet subscription from ne.ord.se at SEK 29/month.
There are, of course, also dictionaries dealing with vocabulary in specific fields of interest such as architecture, economics, medicine, slang, technology, etc.
Monolingual dictionaries, in our case completely in English, give you helpful explanations of words. They are usually intended for non-native users of English and therefore the explanations are simple and easy to understand. Use them to check that a word you have chosen really has the meaning you intended. Here is an example from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:
Examples of such dictionaries are:
Cambridge International Dictionary of English Collins English Dictionary Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Oxford Dictionary of English
Printed dictionaries are expensive and are not regularly updated. You can find many useful resources on the internet. The dictionaries mentioned above are available online. The following are some other internet sites for your word search:
What if you cannot find a translation of the word you want to use? Ask an expert! Once when I had to translate a word that I could not find in any dictionary, I called the Swedish Coast Guard and asked how they said the word in English. Of course they could help me.
You need to understand the difference between amount and number.
There are things we can count and things we cannot count. With countable nouns we use number of and with uncountable nouns amount of. We can talk about the amount of time we work or about the number of hours we work.
A large number of cars had stopped behind the lorry. We were impressed by the number of spectators. She only drank a small amount of water. I hadn’t expected that amount of work.
We can also use plural forms: He drank vast amounts of beer. Here you will find statistics related to numbers of taxpayers and registered traders.
With amount we say how much of something is present. With number we talk about how many there are.
Notice how the verb form changes:
The number of students has increased every year since 2015. The verb is in the singular because the main subject here is number. The word students could be replaced by another word like cars, newspapers, attacks, etc.
A number of students have published a campus journal. The verb is in the plural because the main subject is students. A number of can be replaced by, for example, some.
To sum up: The number of … has the singular form of the verb. A number of … has the plural form of the verb.
Both amount and number can also be used as verbs: How much did it amount to? Number the parts from 1–10 according to how you rate their functionality.
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