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English

Word choice

Understanding word choice

Questions about word choice are very common in the Higher Close Reading papers. Often a question will ask you to deal specifically with word choice. Other questions might ask you to consider word choice among other techniques.

Words used in different contexts can have different connotations. When you answer a question about word choice you are not only being asked what that word means but to consider how that meaning is affected by the context of the passage. You will be able to infer a great deal about writers' opinions from the words they use.

Word choice questions ask you to focus on the connotation rather than the denotation of a word.

Considering word choice is all about thinking beyond the obvious meaning of a word in order to explore what it suggests. Often words meaning almost the same thing imply quite different things. You need to be alert to recognise these when they occur.

Example

One question asks,

Should parents be allowed to smack their children?

and another asks,

Should parents be allowed to strike their children?

The questions are almost the same, but the first seems to be less against smacking than the second, because the word 'strike' suggests something more violent and aggressive than 'smack', which has connotations of a more gentle action, a slap rather than a blow.

Example

Would you rather have a 'crowd' outside your house, or a mob? Probably a crowd, since 'mob' has connotations of an unruly, rather threatening group.

Example

When a group of workers is looking for a pay-rise, newspapers who support them will usually write something like:

Sheet metal workers are asking for a 20% increase

while newspapers who are opposed to them will probably say they are

demanding a 20% increase.

Why? Because, although the figures are the same, demanding suggests a more aggressive, unreasonable approach.

Example

She looked at Sharon's new hairstyle, and sniggered.

What does the choice of the word sniggered here suggest about her attitude to Sharon? Friendly? Sympathetic? Respectful? Surely not. If the writer had wanted to suggest that, she'd have chosen a word like 'chuckle' or 'giggle' that suggest a more friendly, warm kind of laughter. Sniggered suggests a bit of contempt, a bit of a sneer.

Watch

Random English words

Class Clips: Word choice and derivation

Explore the use of words and how you could use words creatively.

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