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Dictionaries of words, synonyms and collocations – a comparison

We will examine how different types of dictionaries treat the same word.

A monolingual dictionary gives explanations in simple English:

An entry from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English explaining the word management
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

You can read more about dictionaries here.

A dictionary of synonyms suggests alternative words:

An entry from Collins English Thesaurus explaining the word management
Collins English Thesaurus

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:

An entry from Oxford Collocations Dictionary explaining the word management
Oxford Collocations Dictionary

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 page from Rogets Thesaurus showing the entry for management
Roget’s Thesaurus

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!

Read more about thesauri here.

Compare to or compare with?

The word compare is used with to or with. Both are correct, but there is a small difference in meaning. We use compare with to put two or more things beside each other and look for differences and similarities. We must use compare to when we want to suggest that two things are similar:

Some historians compare him to Churchill.

Stockholm has been compared to Venice.

If you refer to both similarities and differences, use with:

Compared with last year’s result, we see a huge difference this year.

Most writers do not know the difference between compare with and compare to, or they don’t care. In American English, to is more common. But you, as a good writer, will of course know the difference.

As a writer I might compare myself with, say, Bruce Chatwin (and realise that I am vastly inferior to him), but I would never dream of comparing myself to Bruce Chatwin (implying that I might be as good a writer as he was).

So the little boy in the image above may compare his belly with his mother’s: ”Look, mummy, your tummy is bigger than mine!” But he may just as well compare his tummy to his mother’s and say, ”Look mummy, I’ve got a tummy too!”

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