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Exploring the thesaurus

Written by Liz Potter

If you are a regular user of Macmillan Dictionary you are almost certainly familiar with the thesaurus that accompanies every meaning of every word. If you are not, take a few moments to check out a word like happy.

At the bottom of each meaning you will see a link to ‘Synonyms and related words’. Clicking on the link below this heading will take you to a list of words and phrases with similar meanings that you can browse to find alternatives to the word you have looked up. Each word or phrase in the list is linked to its dictionary entry, so you can immediately find full definitions and examples of the words you are interested in. So clicking on the thesaurus link at the first sense of happy will take you to a list of alternative words that mean ‘feeling happy‘. Each meaning in the dictionary is connected to a specific thesaurus entry that contains only meanings relating to the one you are interested in. So if you click on the link below sense 2 of happy, you will find a list of other words that mean ‘calm and relaxed‘.



Thesaurus entries are of two basic types. For words like happy or sing the thesaurus entry gives you a list of 10 of the most frequent and useful alternatives, followed by other similar words and phrases.

For items in the real world, the thesaurus entry lists all the terms from that lexical set alphabetically. So if you look at the thesaurus entry for garden, you will find a comprehensive list of terms for ‘areas around buildings’, while boil will give you a list of words used to talk about cooking.

Another great feature of the thesaurus is the ability to access related meanings. On the right of the screen for every thesaurus entry is a box listing entries that are related to the one you have searched for. So at the entry for ‘feeling sad or unhappy‘, you will see links to the entries for ‘Sadness and unhappiness’, ‘Feeling disappointed’ and so on, while for car you get links to ‘Makes of car’, ‘Types of car’, ‘Road vehicles other than carsand so on.

We have recently made a few improvements to the way information in the thesaurus is presented and accessed. So for a word like happy you will first see ten of the most frequent and useful alternatives, words like glad, pleased, content and satisfied. By clicking on the ‘Show me more’ link below this you will find a lot more words that mean happy, ordered alphabetically: words and phrases like chuffed, delirious and pleased as punch that are less frequent but might suit your purpose exactly.

Other changes include the addition of links at some entries to antonyms, words that mean the opposite. So at the bottom of the list of words and phrases meaning ‘calm and relaxed‘ is a link to words for ‘Feeling worried and nervous’ (the link is also found in the Explore related meanings box on the right of the screen). Another new feature at some entries is links to more related entries, ‘Explore more meanings’, also found in the box on the right of the screen. This provides further related entries for users who want to dig deeper into a particular semantic area.

The Macmillan Dictionary Thesaurus is a remarkable resource that differs from most other thesauruses in that it was built alongside the dictionary to mesh perfectly with the dictionary content. Try using it when you have to write something in English and you will find that it is an invaluable tool for increasing the range and accuracy of your writing. We hope you will find these latest Thesaurus improvements helpful.

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Liz Potter

1 Comment

  • The Macmillan Dictionary Thesaurus is always of great help when I write essays. Both the interface and content are excellent. Thank you for your work!

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