ESL Knowing Word Relationships

Uncover English Grammar Taught So Long Ago


The connotation of a word is a feeling the word arouses and is often understood not by literal definition. Connotations can be intentional or unintentional. Writers of fiction, poetry and prose attempt to create connotations to words by developing their writing as an art form. They want to get the reader to think on a deeper level using words to create abstract meanings. For example, in the sentence “The time passed like cold steel clockwork” our feelings about cold and steel make time sound very unforgiving and clockwork may make you think of routine.  Connotations can also be unintentional. For example, if I were to tell you that you look ‘hot’ it could mean you appear temperature hot, you look attractive to me or possibly even you look very fashionable.


Synonyms are directly related words that have comparable meanings and linguistics argue that no synonym can have an exact meaning to another. For example, the word “tired” is comparable to worn-out, sleepy, drowsy, or weary. It is arguable that each of those synonyms can contain slightly different meanings. Synonyms are not just limited to adjectives; they can also be used for nouns, verbs, prepositions, or adverbs. Most important these are used in writing to stimulate readers and spice up content.


Antonyms are words with almost opposite meanings to each other. For example, the word “fun” has antonyms similarly opposite to it such as boring, dull, uninspiring or dreary. Like synonyms it is debatable that there can be one true opposite meaning. Antonyms can be applied to nouns, verbs, prepositions, and adverbs. Antonyms can be used to contrast two separate things, actions, feelings, and or placements.


Homonyms are two words that have the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but also hold two different meanings. These can sometimes cause confusion with ESL learners.  For example, the word “right” can relate to the directional right or it can also mean correct. If you are teaching directions to your ESL learners and the answer to a particular direction is “Left” then don’t confirm that by saying “Right!” I made this mistake once only to confuse the students.

Hyponyms and Hypernyms

Hyponyms are words that all can be placed into the same category. For example, “circle” is the hyponym of “square” because they can both be placed into the category of shape. And shape is the hypernym of circle and square. Sometimes hypernyms are referred to as superordinates.