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Word Knowledge

This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Synonyms and Homonyms

When you look up a specific word in the dictionary, you often see three other categories of words listed in addition to the word itself. Antonyms are words that have an opposite meaning to the original word; however, because the ASVAB test does not cover antonyms, neither will we. You will also see two other categories of words in the dictionary, synonyms and homonyms, which the test does address. The following sections discuss each of these categories and what to watch out for on the test.

Words and Their Synonyms

Synonyms are words that have similar, but not exactly the same, meanings. The Word Knowledge section of the ASVAB will test your knowledge of word meanings and synonyms. The test will present you with an underlined word, and ask you to choose a synonym for that word from a list. As you learn new words, ensure that you also learn the meanings and synonyms for that word. For example, the test may give you this type of question:

The best synonym for irrigate is

  1. moisten

  2. aggravate

  3. manuever

  4. wade

You must choose the word with the nearest meaning to "irrigate" from the list, which will be answer A, moisten.


Remember, a synonym matches the part of speech of the original word. This means that a verb has another verb as a synonym, and a noun has a noun as its synonym. For example, in the list above, irrigate is a verb, therefore, the synonym for irrigate will also be a verb, which is moisten.

Although you can normally substitute a given word for its synonym, you won't necessarily achieve a direct translation in meaning by doing so. In these situations, the difference in meaning between synonyms is a matter of specificity. Take, for instance, this sentence, "The boy ate his supper," as compared to "The boy devoured his supper." Although the essence of both sentences is the same—that the boy has, in some manner, ingested his meal—the specificity and connotation of the two phrases are distinctly different because "ate" indicates a placid attitude toward consuming his meal, whereas "devoured" indicates an urgency and speed to the same basic activity. Because of the variations in meaning between words, you cannot always directly substitute synonyms.


On the Word Knowledge module, you are presented with lists of words or meanings from which to answer synonym questions. More than one of the choices might be a viable answer; choose the one that has the closest meaning and context. In addition, some of the choices might be very closely related in meaning. Make sure that you understand the context, if one is provided, of the word and choose carefully.

Using a Thesaurus

You will often see two types of synonym-listing books: a dictionary of synonyms and a thesaurus. The dictionary of synonyms is fairly straightforward; you simply look up your target word from an extensive list of alphabetically organized words to find synonyms of your target word. The word listing does not necessarily keep contextual synonyms together.

Using a thesaurus is a bit different. Because Roget's International Thesaurus is the most popular and most extensive thesaurus, we will use it as our example. First, look up your target word in the index in the back of the book. The index lists words alphabetically. Second, in the listing under your target word, find the desired context. Last, follow the numerical reference to the contextual listing. The book arranges the categories in numerical order, and the numbers of the categories on each page are at the top outer corner of the page. In this listing, you will find not only your target word, but also all the synonyms within a specific context.

Confusing Homonyms

In addition to misunderstanding a word's denotation, a writer can also make mistakes in diction because he confuses the word he intends with a homonym of that word. Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings.


Be sure that you can recognize homonyms and how they are spelled. A homonym can change the entire context of a sentence.

For example, "The hare on the back of his neck stood up," doesn't make a lot of sense until you understand that hare should be its homonym, hair. To keep from making the same, confusing mistake, you should consult your dictionary whenever you are unsure of a word's exact meaning. Remember that both meaning and spelling count in the Word Knowledge section of the test. Table 3.1 lists some common homonyms.

Table 3.1 Common Homonyms



accept (receive)

except (other than)

affect (have an influence on)

effect (result)

allude (refer to indirectly)

elude (to avoid)

allusion (indirect reference)

illusion (false perception)

bare (unclothed)

bear (to carry; an animal)

board (plank of wood)

bored (uninterested)

brake (stop)

break (smash)

buy (purchase)

by (next to)

cite (quote an authority)

sight (to see); site (a place)

desert (abandon)

dessert (after-dinner course)

elicit (bring out)

illicit (illegal)

fair (average, lovely, or gala)

fare (a fee)

fourth (after third)

forth (forward)

gorilla (large primate)

guerilla (type of warfare)

hear (perceive by ear)

here (in this place)

heard (past tense of hear)

herd (a group of animals)

hole (opening)

whole (complete)

lead (heavy metal)

led (to have guided)

lessen (make less)

lesson (something learned)

meat (flesh)

meet (encounter)

no (opposite of yes)

know (be certain)

passed (past tense of pass)

past (after, or time gone by)

patience (forbearance)

patients (people under medical supervision)

peace (absence of war)

piece (a portion)

plain (unadorned or clear)

plane (carpenter's tool, aircraft, or geometric space)

presence (to be on hand)

presents (gifts)

principal (most important; head

principle (basic truth or law) of a school)

rain (precipitation)

reign (to rule); rein (a strap to control an animal)

raise (build or lift up)

raze (tear down)

right (correct; opposite of left)

rite (religious ceremony); write (enscribe)

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