50 Words You Think Are Synonyms but Aren’t

Just because the thesaurus lists two words as synonyms doesn't mean that you can simply slot one in for the other. Learn the most common mistakes.

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Stalwart/stubborn

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com
Here's an example of two words that overlap in certain ways but aren't synonyms at all: Both "stalwart" and "stubborn" describe a state of being unmovable. Whereas "stalwart" has a positive connotation (someone who is stalwart is steady and reliable), "stubborn" connotes a negative judgment (being stubborn implies some level of ignorance along with the steadiness). Add these fancy words to your vocabulary to sound instantly smarter.

Obtuse/abstruse

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

Some people say "obtuse" when they mean "abstruse," and this is unfortunate because "obtuse" is an insult: it means dim-witted. By contrast, "abstruse" refers to something that is difficult to understand in general. To put it another way, just because you have trouble understanding an abstruse concept doesn't mean you're obtuse. Make sure you're not using any of these 70 words (and phrases) wrong.

Discriminatory/prejudicial

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

While these two cover some of the same ground (both are adverbs describing actions that are harmful), "discriminatory" describes an action that is harmful because it unfairly draws a distinction between different categories of people or things (such as age, race, religion, or gender). "Prejudicial" generally describes an action that is harmful. Take this quiz to find out how artful your vocabulary is.

Infertile/sterile

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com
One who is infertile (having difficulty conceiving a child) might or might not be sterile (incapable of conceiving a child). One who is sterile will always be infertile, however. Find out the middle school vocabulary words that even adults get wrong

Factoid/trivia

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

The "oid" in "factoid" can make the word "factoid" appear to mean a small fact, such as a bit of trivia. However, the suffix, "oid," means something that resembles something else. In other words, factoids merely resemble facts. They aren't facts, at all. In fact, factoids are false facts. Find out 10 almost extinct words you should start using ASAP.

 

Deceptively/actually

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

The problem with the word "deceptively" is that it's a bit deceptive, so to speak. In other words, it could mean one thing, as well as that thing's exact opposite. So while you may be using it correctly, technically, your audience may not understand what you actually mean. Still with us? For example, if you describe a house as "deceptively small," you may mean that it's quite the opposite of small even though it might appear small. But the person you're talking to may believe that you're saying the house is smaller than it appears.

Belies versus disguises (versus betrays)

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com
Like "deceptively," the word "belies" causes confusion because it has two meanings that mean the opposite of one another. According to the dictionary, "belie" is a verb that means disguise or gives a false impression. For example, you may be using a smile to belie your lying eyes while some people use "belie" to mean "betray" as in "your eyes belie the malice beneath your smile." This latter use is so common, so it's difficult to know what someone means when they write or say "belies" instead of "disguises" or "betrays."

Religion/ethnicity

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

These two share some overlap, but they aren't the same and can't necessarily be used interchangeably. Your religion refers to your system of belief or worship in a higher power of some kind (usually a God or gods). Your ethnicity refers to your culturally defined identity.

Bisexual/pansexual

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com

The words "bisexual" and "pansexual" both refer to a fluidity in one's sexual preferences. But "bisexual" is defined as being attracted to both men and to women. The word, therefore, presumes that there are only two genders. The definition of "pansexual" is defined as being attracted to both men and women, as well as people who identify as no gender or some other gender.

Averse/adverse

words-you-think-are-synonyms-but-aren-tNicole Fornabaio /Rd.com
While these terms are related in origin, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, they should not be substituted for one another. Whereas "adverse" describes something that is harmful or unfavorable (such as an "adverse effect" of a drug), "averse" refers to a negative feeling about something.

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