How to Use a Thesaurus

Page of an open thesaurus
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A thesaurus is a tool you can use to search for synonyms and antonyms of other words. There are different types of thesauri and different methods for accessing information from them. Thesauri can come in the form of a book, an electronic device, a web site, or a word processing tool.

When to Use a Thesaurus

How many times have you struggled to find the best word to describe a feeling, a scene, or an impression? A thesaurus is used to help you become more precise (if you are working on a technical paper) and descriptive (if you are writing a creative piece) in your writing. It provides a list of suggested “replacements” for any word you have in mind. The thesaurus helps you zero in on the best word choice.

A thesaurus can also be used as a vocabulary builder. You can use a thesaurus to discover new ways of expressing yourself.

Accessing a Thesaurus

  • If you are typing a paper in Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, you can access a thesaurus at any time by searching under the “tools” list. You may also right-click on a word and find alternate word suggestions.
  • If you are working on a computer with Internet access, you can visit and conduct a word search.
  • You can purchase a handbook or an electronic thesaurus and carry it along in your backpack.

When You Shouldn’t Use a Thesaurus

Some teachers ask students to limit their use of a thesaurus. Why? If you rely too much on a thesaurus as you write a paper, you can end up with a paper that sounds amateurish. There is an art to finding a perfect word; but the nuance of expressions can work against you as easily against you as it could work for you.

In short: don’t overdo it! Be a little parsimonious (thrifty, prudent, economical, sparing, careful, penny-wise, skimping, sparing, frugal) when using a thesaurus.

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Fleming, Grace. "How to Use a Thesaurus." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Fleming, Grace. (2020, August 27). How to Use a Thesaurus. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "How to Use a Thesaurus." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).