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words that are the same part of speech and that have meanings containing identical elements; the differing elements of the meanings are consistently neutralized in certain contexts. Thus, synonyms are words that are distinguishable only by such semantic features as become unessential in certain contexts; this permits the mutual substitution of the words in such contexts. Examples of synonyms in Russian are put’, “path,” and doroga, “road”; brosaf, “to throw,” and kidat’, “to fling”; grustit’, “to pine,” and pechalit’sia, “to be sorrowful”; smelyi, “brave”, and khrabryi, “courageous”; and zharkii, “hot,” and znoinyi, “torrid.”

Inasmuch as the number of coinciding semantic elements in various sequences of words varies (just as the number of positions in which the differing elements become unessential also varies), we can speak of varying degrees of synonymy for different words. Some synonyms are maximally close in meaning, for example, nastat’ and nastupat’, “to come,” “to arrive,” and speshit’ and toropit’sia, “to hurry”; they are called absolute synonyms. Other synonyms may be distinguished primarily by “stylistic tone” or their sphere of use, for example, vialyi, “sluggish,” and apatichnyi, “apathetic”; guby, “lips,” and usta, “mouth,” “lips” (poetic); and est’, kushat’, “eat,” and zhrat’, “gobble.” Such synonyms are often words with meanings containing an element of evaluation, for example, konchit’, “complete,” and zavershit’, “complete (something important)”; and kliacha, “nag,” and plokhaia loshad’, “horse in poor condition.” In some cases, the differing elements in the meanings of synonyms may be the elements of primary importance, for example, U tebia ne glaza, a ochi, “You have not eyes, but orbs.”

The concept of synonymy is also understood in a wider sense, in which synonyms are words that fall into a single “thematic group”; for example, butylka, “bottle,” fliazhka, “flask” (diminutive), and puzyrek, “vial”; pen’, “stump,” and koriaga, “snag”; and prisnit’sia, “to appear in a dream,” and prigrezit’sia, “to appear in a reverie.” The concept of synonymy applies not only to lexical items; morphological means, syntactic constructions, and phraseological combinations may also be synonymous.


Ocherkipo sinonimike sovremennogo russkogo literaturnogo iazyka. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
Shmelev, D. N. Problemy semanticheskogo analiza leksiki. Moscow, 1973.
Apresian, Iu. D. Leksicheskaia semantika: Sinonimicheskie sredstva iazyka. Moscow, 1974.
Gekker, S. F. “Bibliografiia po sinonimike russkogo iazyka.” In Sinonimy russkogo iazyka i ikh osobennosti. Leningrad, 1972.
Aleksandrova, Z. E. Slovar’ sinonimov russkogo iazyka, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1971.
Slovar’ sinonimov russkogo iazyka, vols. 1–2. Leningrad, 1970–71.


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