- M.C. Thomas
How to Utilize a Thesaurus (Without Overdoing It)
Ah, the good ol' thesaurus. Perfect for spicing up any boring sentence. I remember using one in English class for the first time and being fascinated at the plethora of synonyms I could use (and no, I didn't use a thesaurus to find the word "plethora").
It's a useful tool, but sometimes it can be over-utilized. What should be a simple sentence or description turns into a distracting mess of words that nobody uses in regular conversation.
To illustrate this, I wrote a short essay called "Why I Love the Fall," then used Microsoft Word's thesaurus for every single sentence. Here's what I ended up with:
Superb midday! I intend to inform you about why I adore the autumn.
Going to an apple spinney or a pumpkin fix is a delightful cyclical pastime. Fodder rides, corn labyrinths, and apple harvesting are some of my preferred recollections as a youth.
I additionally appreciate trekking in the thickets. The chilly squall feels pleasant and the good-looking shrubs are altering pigments.
Football period is also upon us. Observing the contests with colleagues while devouring cuisine and swigging tipple makes for a wonderful Lord's Day.
And ultimately, I relish the holidays. Going to Halloween gatherings donning a uniform, distributing out toffee to hoodwink-or-negotiators, and consuming Thanksgiving banquet with my clan are amusing twelve-monthly rituals.
Hard to read, right? Obviously, that's an extreme example of overusing a thesaurus. But sometimes, that's how writers come across when they are trying too hard to enhance their vocabulary.
That's not to say you shouldn't use a thesaurus at all, however. Here's the original essay:
Good afternoon! I want to tell you about why I love the fall.
Going to an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch is a fun seasonal activity. Hay rides, corn mazes, and apple picking are some of my favorite memories as a kid.
I also like hiking in the woods. The cool breeze feels nice and the beautiful trees are changing colors.
Football season is also upon us. Watching the games with friends while eating food and drinking beer makes for a great Sunday.
And finally, I enjoy the holidays. Going to Halloween parties wearing a costume, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters, and eating Thanksgiving dinner with my family are fun annual traditions.
It's easy to read, but it's also boring, simplistic, and uninspired. When it comes to using a thesaurus, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. If your adjectives are starting to feel repetitive and basic, use a thesaurus to spice it up. But it still has to sound natural. Let's go through one of the lines and see how we can improve it:
The cool breeze feels nice and the beautiful trees are changing colors.
"Cool breeze" isn't too bad here, as it's commonly associated with the autumn season. But "feels nice" is too vague and basic. This is where a thesaurus can come in handy to help you find words that fit better in this context. "Refreshing" or "soothing" might work. Another way to improve this is to give the subject (the breeze) a more active verb. The breeze doesn't just "feel soothing," but it actively soothes or embraces your skin.
Let's move on to "beautiful trees are changing colors." There's nothing technically wrong here, but again, it's uninspired. Everyone knows the leaves of the trees change colors. But how will you fully immerse your reader into the scene? "The trees are like a palette of multicolored leaves." To make it even stronger and snappier, don't even include "like" when making the comparison: "The trees are a palette of multicolored leaves."
The cool breeze embraces my skin and the trees are a palette of multicolored leaves.
There's probably more I can do to improve this, but that's just an example to show how a thesaurus can be useful to strengthen a sentence without feeling like it has to be used with every word.
Do you use a thesaurus? And how would you write the "Why I Love The Fall" essay? It could be a fun writing exercise, feel free to try it in the comments!