Using Spanish Synonyms / Edition 2

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Written for those with a basic competence in Spanish, this comprehensive synonyms guide is designed to help the learner find the right word for the right context - thus improving their vocabulary and enabling them to communicate more precisely and fluently. It contains around 900 lists of synonyms, each one classified according to its level of formality. Every synonym is illustrated with authentic examples, and the subtle shades of difference between them are clearly explained. The book contains four clear indexes: Spanish-Spanish, Argentinean-Spanish, Mexican-Spanish and English-Spanish, enabling the reader to instantly locate any word. This second edition has been thoroughly revised and updated, and includes new material on Argentinean and Mexican varieties, including a useful comparison of Mexican and Iberian Spanish. It will continue to be an essential reference for college and undergraduate students, their teachers, and other language professionals seeking a clear, user-friendly guide to Spanish synonyms and their usage.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'All in all the new edition is to be welcomed, because it refines and extends what was already a very useful resource for advanced users of Spanish. …The breadth of linguistic knowledge enshrined in this book is very impressive, with its authoritative classification by register and dialect. …Using Spanish Synonyms is an excellent reference work to have on one's shelves. The detail and accuracy are of the highest order reflecting meticulous preparation.' Ian Mackenzie University of Newcastle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521547604
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/30/2006
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 1,370,461
  • Product dimensions: 6.65 (w) x 9.37 (h) x 1.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald E. Batchelor has retired from a senior position at the University of Nottingham, where he taught French and Spanish for 40 years.

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Cambridge University Press
0521547601 - Using Spanish Synonyms - by R. E. Batchelor


Word or lexical item

This introduction will use the term “lexical item” instead of “word” which normally designates a single item. “Lexical item” can refer to more than one word, as in the case of arrojar luz and traer a la mente, but it still suggests a unit of meaning for the speaker. The term “lexical item” covers the possibilities of both single-word items and those made up of several words.

Vocabulary acquisition

Vocabulary acquisition is considered to be one of the main methods for absorbing and expressing the variety, richness and creative power of a language. The learner of a foreign language needs to be encouraged to build knowledge around lexical items, to create clusters of words, to develop his/her own lexical fields and to see relationships of meaning between words and expressions. This book of synonyms is intended to promote the building process by showing the learner how to operate exclusively in the foreign language. The ultimate objective is the practical and active exploitation of the target language by the student who is enabled to perceive nuances which differentiate synonyms.

What is a synonym?

Synonyms are terms or expressions which have the same or similar meanings. Since in practice total synonymy hardly ever occurs,the study of synonyms involves the examination of shades of meaning and of how these shades of meaning relate to each other in differences and similarities. It also entails the study of the contexts in which they occur, and differing registers.

What is a book of synonyms?

Dictionaries are an indispensable tool in the study of language. They contain a whole range of data from grammatical information to spelling and pronunciation, and are presented in such a way that the learner may find a particular lexical item quickly and conveniently. Yet, they have their limitations in the sense that they can be a kind of linguistic strait-jacket. They can dissuade the learner from approaching a language in other ways. Items such as fuera, fuero and fuerte follow each other in an alphabetically ordered dictionary but their only common feature is their spelling. The traditional dictionary does not point to a dozen other items such as bragado, fornido and recio which have far more in common with fuerte than fuera and fuero. A book of synonyms brings together lexical items connected, not by their spelling, but in a much more organic way, that is through their meaning. It represents an endeavor to explain and illustrate the manner in which these items differ from, and are similar to, each other. Grouping synonyms together helps the learner to develop an awareness of the semantic relationships in language. It is after all a question of improved communication which constitutes the main objective of all language study.

Why a book of Spanish synonyms?

This book of Spanish synonyms is not intended to replace the conventional bilingual dictionary. Neither does it intend to replace dictionaries of Spanish synonyms designed for native speakers of Spanish. It concerns itself with the English-speaking person who cannot cope with lists of undifferentiated items, the meanings of which come easily and naturally to the informed native speaker but constitute a mystery to the non-native speaker. A dictionary of synonyms for the native speaker fails to meet the very special requirements of the non-native speaker, notably with respect to register, or level of language. It usually excludes a wide range of lexical items which would be categorized as “colloquial,” “vulgar,” and “obscene.” Its tendency is to stress the higher realms of register, the literary, the refined and even the archaic. The present book aims to remedy this deficiency by offering a broad range of items across the lower register scales, without neglecting in any way the higher registers.

The choice of the right word

The exactness of choice, the pursuit of the palabra acertada can present serious, even unsurmountable, problems to the student of the Spanish language, when left to his/her own devices. How would (s)he realize that the verb retornar is of a much higher register than regresar which, although common enough, does not occur as frequently as volver, while the noun related to retornar, retorno is regularly used? The ubiquitous dar could be more than adequately substituted by entregar (documentos), facilitar (oportunidades), suministrar (víveres), proporcionar (material), deparar (la ocasión), conceder (derechos) and so on. It is very unlikely that in normal discourse deparar would be alongside documentos or víveres. The choice of a certain synonym is necessarily suggested by association and context, and frequently entails lexical repercussions elsewhere in the text.

Choice of frame titles

The constraints of space entail the inclusion of certain frame titles to the exclusion of others. Certain decisions could seem arbitrary, but most frame titles would appear on anyone’s list. Such items would be decir, bonito, hacer and tonto. Limitless discussion could center on the choice of abogado, río and dedo. The criterion for most of the frame titles lies in the range of possible synonyms they give rise to. If it could be argued that the inclusion of some frame titles is idiosyncratic, it is hoped that the criticism would be leveled at a very small number.

Choice of entries

Since a book of synonyms cannot aspire to be exhaustive in the way in which a traditional dictionary can, the choice of entries is of supreme importance. This choice is determined by two principal factors, the first of which is the compiler’s experience, subjective reaction and sensitivity to the language concerned. The second factor is the examination of dictionaries of Spanish synonyms which results in the exclusion of the less relevant synonyms and in the retention of the useful and practical ones. For this volume, throughout this process of choice, Spanish speakers were regularly and systematically consulted, and at two levels. At the primary level, Spaniards, Argentinians and Mexicans offered their advice and examples, and once the corpus of material had been gathered in computer form, a second rigorous and formal operation began. This involved the sifting of every single entry and example by a trained Spanish lexicographer whose help has been gratefully acknowledged at the end of this introduction. It should be added that some entries appear in more than one list of synonyms. Indeed, in a few cases, the same entry occurs in four and even five different groupings, proof of the elasticity of many lexical items.

Layout of semantic frames and their use

To facilitate ease of access and understanding, a device called a semantic frame is used. Synonyms are set within a semantic frame as illustrated below:

Frame title (acabar) English equivalent (to finish)
synonym and register level translation of synonym with grammatical data and comments on meaning and use examples
clausurar [3–2] to bring to a close los médicos clausuraron la sesión; clausurar un congreso
terminar [2] to end (terminar is used more than to terminate) la película (se) termina pronto; he terminado de leer el libro

Each semantic frame has a base word referred to as a frame title, e.g. acabar, which is a general and neutral term and which can be applied to a wide range of contexts. In one case, culo, the frame title is not suitable for all registers but it was felt to be the most common of all the group.

English equivalent of frame title

This appears on the opposite side of the page and, as far as possible, provides the neutral flavor of the frame title (see example above).


The synonyms are listed alphabetically but within a register level grouping (see example above). If the synonym is a noun the gender is given.


In the first column, the register level of the item is indicated. Register is conceived as the most important organizing criterion of the book. Synonyms are grouped according to register, and examples correspond to their respective register levels. R3 designates a high degree of formality, R2 is neutral, R1 colloquial and R1* vulgar, to be used with care. These are not watertight compartments but helpful indicators. A certain movement between the levels is noted by R3–R2 and R2–R1 (see example above).

Translations, grammar, comments, etc

The second column gives a translation of the synonym. Often more than one translation appears in order to cover the various usages of the synonym as conveyed by the examples in the last column. Some grammatical information is also provided, as well as comments on meaning and usage (see example above). This second column also contains, where appropriate, indications of the interchangeability of synonyms, an innovation which students should find particularly useful. Sometimes a system of numbering is used. See the frame incluir.


The third column contains examples of synonyms as they occur in everyday usage. They are chosen to illustrate the most typical senses and contexts of a synonym. The examples are of real Spanish checked, and modified where necessary, by a native Spanish-speaking lexicographer. Frequently, a number of examples are listed so that the learner may see the variety of contexts for a given lexical item, as well as its syntactic function in a sentence, that is which preposition, for instance, is used with the verb in certain circumstances. The illustrations of usage often involve examples in the feminine form, both to reflect the sociological changes occurring in the study of modern languages and also to underline grammatical features such as agreements of adjectives with feminine genders, where for instance it is not obvious that the gender is feminine.

Number of entries within a frame

It was decided to establish a ceiling on the number of synonyms within a frame since an excess could discourage the student. Against this fear of being counterproductive had to be balanced the notion of the book as a source of reference which suggests some attempt at comprehensiveness. Some frame titles attract approximately twenty terms and even more in just a few limited cases. Chica and chico are two good illustrations. The average for a frame is ten. In twelve cases, a frame title is treated twice. This happens when a title contains two different meanings. Lexical items like comida, dejar and orden have two separate headings indicated by (a) and (b), and are entered as such in the indexes.


There are four indexes. The Spanish–Spanish index contains both terms associated with Peninsular Spanish generally and Argentinianisms and Mexicanisms. The English–Spanish index operates rather like a conventional dictionary. Two other smaller indexes are provided. They list Argentinianisms and Mexicanisms. A most useful feature of these indexes is the abundance of cross-references.

It is hoped that this book will help the learner to explore the Spanish language with ever-increasing confidence. It is sufficiently complete to make it a useful reference book and should make a significant contribution to better translation work. It should improve the learner’s ability to speak and write original and appropriate Spanish. Above all, it aims to show the student how a language can be exciting, active and creative.

Introduction to second edition

Twelve years have now elapsed since the appearance of the first edition of the present volume, which has met with universal approval and very positive reviews. It now seems an appropriate time to offer a second edition, and this for numerous reasons.

First, much has changed in the world over this ten-year period, technologically, socially, politically, and geographically, all due to the process of globalization. Second, the ever-expanding role of American Spanish-speaking countries, notably Mexico, requires our attention much more than, say, twenty years ago. Iberian Spanish is no longer the dominant variety of Spanish that it once was, so that the criterion for “standard” Spanish is now arguably in Mexico and not in Spain. At the same time, the core language of Spain still prevails so that, for example, the key words or frame titles are in current use in both Spain and Mexico, with the exception of volver.

Third, as in Iberian Spanish, the range of vocabulary in Argentinian and Mexican Spanish grows at an ever-increasing pace. This is particularly true of Mexican suffixes such as -ada (andada, bailada, platicada, viejada and zurcida), -ito (dinerito, vestidito, fiestecita, agüita, solito (sun and alone), and -azo(avionazo, trenazo, cabronazo, carambazo, chingadazo, cocotazo, colazo). Such suffixes do exist in Iberian Spanish (llamada, llegada, casita, chiquito, cochazo, mazazo) but are nowhere near as common as in Mexico, especially the diminutives.

Fourth, the indigenous Náhuatl language of the Aztecs provides a rich seam of vocabulary similar to that of Arabic in Iberian Spanish. Cuate, petaca, tianguis and milpa are excellent illustrations of Náhuatl in common use.

Fifth, Mexico’s proximity to the United States has led to an already well-documented fusion of Spanish and American English, called Spanglish. This new hybrid language has spawned numerous rebarbative terms but many have come to stay and require accommodation. Such words are bonches, lonch(e) (lunch), picop, receso, reporte, reportear, tip and troca. This proximity has also injected new meanings into Spanish words already in existence. Cariñoso is a good case in point, for it has taken on the dual meaning of dear in English, whereas once it only meant affectionate.

Sixth, frequency of use provides contrasts between Mexican and Iberian Spanish. Volver in the sense of to come/go back is little used in Mexico and is replaced by regresar which is much less used in Spain. Similarly, the Iberian ducharse, afeitarse, marcharse and ir a buscar a alguien are substituted by bañarse or darse una regadera, rasurarse, irse and ir por. Many more examples of this contrast in frequency will be found in the text.

Seventh, more words now have different meanings in the two countries. Bolsista means pickpocket in Mexico but stockbroker in Spain. Padre signifies great, fantastic in the former and terrible, awful in the latter. Madre, common currency in Spain and of standard register, is frequently avoided in Mexico because of its vulgar connotations and is often replaced by mamá.

Eighth, in this edition American English takes precedence over British English, both lexically and orthographically.

As with the first edition, it is hoped that the present volume will serve advanced students effectively and will continue to provide a rich source of material for accurate expression in the Spanish language.

abogado lawyer, barrister, solicitor

letrado/a m/f [3]

lawyer el letrado/la letrada leyó el acta

abogado/a m/f [2]

lawyer, barrister, solicitor mi hijo quiere ser abogado; la abogada ha pedido la total absolución de sus clientes

escribano m A [2]

notary este contrato se firmó en presencia de las partes y del escribano

fiscal mf [2]

prosecutor, attorney el fiscal pidió novecientos años de cárcel para cada uno de los terroristas

jurista mf [2]

any person whose profession is directly connected with the law, lawyer (used much more than jurist) los abogados y procuradores son juristas

notario/a m/f [2]

notary, solicitor firmé el contrato en presencia del notario / de la notaria

pasante mf [2]

(young) assistant lawyer trabajó como pasante de notario durante dos años

procurador m [2]

attorney el procurador actúa entre los jueces y los abogados

cuervo m A [1]

lawyer (has a pejorative connotation) espero que los cuervos nos defiendan bien en el juicio y podamos salir de la cárcel rápido

picapleitos mf [1]

lawyer (used pejoratively) ¿abogado ése? no es más que un picapleitos

tordo m A [1]

lawyer Tengo que llamar al tordo para que me saque de un apuro con la cana

abrigo overcoat

gabán m [3]

overcoat el caballero llevaba puesto un gabán con capilla hecho de un paño muy fuerte

sobretodo m [3]

overcoat el caballero se puso un sobretodo de lana
abrigo m [2] overcoat (for a man or a woman) ponte el abrigo que hace mucho frío

americana f [2]

(sports) jacket iba vestido con unos vaqueros y una americana

anorak m [2]

anorak este anorak no tiene capucha y no te va a proteger contra el viento

bata f [2]

white coat (as used by a surgeon), dressing gown al levantarse, se puso la bata; el cirujano lleva una bata blanca

campera f A [2]

sports jacket (usually with a zipper/zip) decidí ponerme la campera para ir a pescar

capa f [2]

cape (usually the garment worn in ceremonies) el rey se puso la capa para ir al teatro; la Reina Isabel llevaba una capa de terciopelo rojo

cazadora f [2]

jacket (often with a zipper/zip) viste informalmente, suele llevar cazadoras

chamarra f M [2]

jacket (usually with a zipper/zip, like cazadora) ponte la chamarra porque hace frío

chaqueta f [2]

jacket (of a suit) (only for females in Argentina), cardigan ponte la chaqueta, no salgas así con este frío; una chaqueta de lana

chaquetón f [2]

short coat (for women) con esa falda te queda mejor el abrigo que el chaquetón

chubasquero m [2]

shower-proof jacket coge el chubasquero que está lloviendo

impermeable m [2]


llovía tanto en Galicia que me compré un impermeable

piloto m A [2]

raincoat ¡ojo! que está lloviendo, ¿por qué no te ponés un piloto?

rompevientos m A [2]

windcheater me quité el rompevientos porque hacía calor

saco m A/M [2]

jacket (often of a suit), cardigan un traje consta de un pantalón, un saco y un chaleco; un saco sport; un saco de lana

sotana f [2]

cassock la sotana del cura suele ser negra

toga f [2]

gown (used in ceremonies by judges, members of universities, etc.) los profesores universitarios no llevan ahora la toga cuando dan sus clases

trenca f [2]

duffel coat cuando era estudiante solía llevar una trenca
tres cuartos m [2] three-quarter coat (longer than chaquetón and shorter than abrigo) el soldado llevaba puesto un tres cuartos

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Spanish synonyms; 3. Index of Spanish items with frame titles; 4. Index of Argentinean items with frame titles; 5. Index of Mexican items with frame titles; 6. Index of English items with frame titles.

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