Words are fun. They help us communicate with each other. And with as many words as there are (and with more being invented every year), it’s easy to find the exact way to say what we want in any number of ways.
However, this does not mean that all words are created equal.
But… but… synonyms! They’re words that all mean the same thing, right?
Kind of. Synonyms are words that mean something similar, but not exactly the same thing. In fact, very few words mean the same thing. For the most part, synonyms help you choose words that have varying degrees of meaning. They give off the same essence, but they’re not exactly the same.
You’ll Just LOVE This Example
So say you want to jazz up your love letter. Instead of saying, “I love you,” you want to choose a better word. You search online for synonyms for love and find that among them are “affection,” “devotion,” and “passion.” Let’s look at their dictionary.com definitions closely (with non-relevant definitions eliminated):
- a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
- a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
- sexual passion or desire.
- fond attachment, devotion, or love: the affection of a parent for an only child.
- Often, affections.
- emotion; feeling; sentiment: over and above our reason and affections.
- the emotional realm of love: a place in his affections.
- profound dedication; consecration.
- earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.
- any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
- strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.
- strong sexual desire; lust.
So while you see that most of the definitions may contain the word “love” in them (and that the definition for love contains all the synonyms themselves), these words wouldn’t necessarily mean “I love you” when used in that context. “I have affection for you,” sounds old-fashioned and seems very aloof or distanced. “I’m devoted to you” is a little better, but depending on your relationship can err on the creepy side. And as for “I have passion for you,”… well, that escalated quickly.
(For more examples, see Rachel Kopp’s blog about conscious word choices in your writing.)
Common Word Choice Mistakes
We mean one thing and say something else. We’re human; it happens. But there’s a difference between a simple mistake and not knowing the difference between words.
Below you’ll find some word/phrase equalizing mistakes that I commonly come across in my editing.
“As Well As” vs. “And”
If you do this: “The city is known for its parks and open spaces as well as its fishing.”
Change it to this: “The city is known for its parks, open spaces, and fishing.”
Why?: Parks, open spaces, and fishing are all related. You should only use “as well as” for things that aren’t directly related to your first group of words.
“Such As” vs. “Like”
If you do this: “Our technicians are qualified in many services such as repair, installation, and upgrades.”
Change it to this: “Our technicians are qualified in many services, like repair, installation, and upgrades.”
Why?: Such as sounds strange in the example. You could also substitute “including” for “like.”
Note: Don’t be that person who uses both—“like such as”—in one breath.
“Upon” vs. “On”
If you do this: “Call upon our team when you need service.”
Change it to this: “Call our team when you need service.”
Why?: Calling upon someone means to go visit them, as per 18th century social standards.
These may seem like little mistakes, but they can really hinder how you appear to the people reading what you write. My best advice for any writer out there is to make sure you’re writing like you would actually speak. Don’t use words that sound fancy just so you can appear intelligent—more often than not, the result is the opposite.
Feel free to share your own experiences with word choice faux pas with me in the comments!