SYNONYMS: Choosing between Similar Words

Choosing amongst synonyms is an important skill in the IELTS test. In the listening or reading test, the correct answer often involves writing a synonym of a given word. Or, when writing an essay, you will need to decide which particular word works best with your text. Sometimes this can be difficult when there are several words with the same, or similar, meaning; these groups of words are called ‘synonyms’. As an example, the word ‘particular’ is a synonym for ‘specific’, ‘exact’, and ‘precise’.

Synonyms do not have the exact same meaning. The words ‘minimal’ and ‘minimum’, along with ‘optimal’ and ‘optimum’ are often used interchangeably. However, there is a small difference between ‘minimum’ and ‘minimal’, and ‘optimum’ and ‘optimal’ which can help you distinguish between them.

‘Optimum’ and ‘optimal’, and ‘minimum’ and ‘minimal’ can be both nouns and adjectives, and each of these words can be the subject of a sentence or a word that describes a noun (adjective). However, only ‘optimum’ and ‘minimum’ can operate as nouns.

So, while you could use ‘optimum’ and ‘optimal’ interchangeably as an adjective to describe a noun–‘an optimum condition’ or ‘an optimal result’–you can only use ‘optimum’ as a noun itself. For instance, ‘an example of the optimum is the best growing condition for a plant’.

‘Minimum’ as a noun is defined as ‘the lowest or the lowest possible number, amount, intensity; as an adjective it is ‘[something] that is a minimum’. The word ‘minimal’, also an adjective, is defined as ‘very small, the least possible’.

So we can have a ‘minimum amount’ or a ‘minimal effect’, with the words working as adjectives describing the nouns ‘amount’ and ‘effect. ‘Minimum’ is used as a noun in the following sentence: ‘the minimum is 100 kph.


choosing between similar words synonyms ielts test