Don’t Trust the Microsoft Word Thesaurus!
  • 3-minute read
  • 7th December 2015

Don’t Trust the Microsoft Word Thesaurus!

A common problem many of our customers have is that they use the same word again and again throughout their work. If English is not your first language, you might find it difficult to think of synonyms (alternative words) for common words like ‘because’ or ‘says.’

The natural reaction is to use the inbuilt thesaurus in Microsoft Word. However, there are some problems with this, as we’ll now explain…

Thesaurus Problems

The main issue with using the inbuilt thesaurus is that most English words have more than one meaning. Thus, if you search for an alternative to a word, the thesaurus might suggest a word with a completely different meaning.

As an example, take the word ‘run.’ It’s a simple word, but it has tons of meanings! If we wanted to change the word ‘run’ in the following sentence:

I take my dog Boris for a run in the park every day

We could use MS Word’s thesaurus. However, the synonyms it suggests are not all appropriate. The first it gives is ‘course’:

I take my dog Boris for a course in the park every day

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But this is based on the definition of ‘run’ as a journey or route. It also suggests ‘enclosure,’ but this would only make sense if we were describing a ‘chicken run.’

Shakespeare in Synonyms

As a further example, here is what Shakespeare’s sonnet ‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day’ would look like if we replaced the key words with synonyms from Microsoft Word’s thesaurus:

Shall I equate thee to a solstice’s date?
Thou art more good-looking and more comfortable.
Bumpy winds do shake the darling outgrowths of May,
And summer’s tenancy hath all too squat a date.
Sometime too boiling the watch of dreamland shines,
And habitually is his gold tone reduced;
And every fair from fair sometime falloffs,
By coincidental, or nature’s changing possibility, untrimmed;
But thy infinite season shall not diminish,
Nor lose custody of that dispassionate thou ow’st,
Nor shall expiry brag thou wand’rest in his blind,
When in eternal shapes to spell thou grow’st.
So long as men can puff, or discriminations can get,
So long resides this, and this bequeaths existence to thee.

Not quite so impressive, right? But what can you do if you are unsure which synonym is right?

The best course of action is to look for example sentences that use the word you have chosen. A good dictionary will always give an example as well as the meaning of the word you are looking for. Of course, you can also let the experts check your work for you, too!

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