A Writer's Good FriendWritten by Scott Dreyer
Tonight three students and I in our online class were working on a "Definition" paper, that defines a word. One student from Shenzhen, China wrote to define "happiness" and how a person can have that emotion. As we read the essay, I noticed some words were used often. I asked the students: read the paper and count how many times you see the word "happy" or "happiness." We counted about fourteen times.
Then I showed them this wonderful tool: http://www.thesaurus.com/
Whereas a dictionary gives you words' meanings, a thesaurus gives you the synonyms (words with same meanings) and antonyms (words with opposite meanings).
I told them: Let the thesaurus be your good friend. It can help you widen your vocabulary and avoid over-using common words. For our case, we put in the word "happy" and found this long list: http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/happy?s=t
A few tips:
1. Notice how, next to the word "happy," there is a blue link to its definition, on the partner website, dictionary.com.
2. The words highlighted in dark yellow are close matches to "happy."
3. The words in light yellow match too, but not quite as closely. Usually, pick a word in dark yellow to get a closer match.
**4. Do not just think, because a word is in dark yellow, it is a perfect 100% match for the word you want to exchange. Many English words have "fine shades of meaning." That is, there are some differences between what they mean or when to use them. For example, "cheerful" and "merry" are pretty close matches to "happy." Americans say "Merry Christmas" while the English wish "Happy Christmas." However, several words in dark yellow have a big difference from "happy." "Contented" means satisfied. "Ecstatic," "jubilant," and "overjoyed" mean EXTREME happiness, as in "The Smiths were ecstatic when they won the grand prize and got the free trip to Europe."
This is a way DreyerCoaching.com can help you. Not only can we teach you new words, but we can teach you the differences between them and when to use them. That is valuable and will help you improve your word power. And we hope that will make you happy. Maybe even ecstatic.
Here is the student's essay. Draft 1 is her original copy. We read her essay in class, discussed it line by line, and found about six places where we could choose a synonym for "happy." In Draft 2, we cut the words "happy/happiness" from fourteen times to seven...a 50% reduction.
Bottom line: use a thesaurus to find synonyms so you do not overuse some words.
What is happiness?
What is happiness? Different people have different ideas. Some people are rich; they think they are happy. Other people have many friends, so they feel happy. Still others are happy because their lives are meaningful. Happiness attracts everyone. For children, happiness often suggests eating something good or playing with toys. For a stamp collector, stamps bring more delight than meals. And for a scientist, a discovery or an invention rather than anything else gives him greatest satisfaction.
There was once a beggar who was always happy. The king saw him and wondered why he was so happy. However, the king could have whatever he wanted, yet he himself was not happy at all. Thus we can see one's happiness doesn't depend on whether he is rich or poor. Happiness is a state of mind. As long as one thinks he's content and satisfied, he is happy.
As everything exist only because its opposite, happiness exists only when pain exists. Just as a person who does not know failure never knows success, a person, who has not experienced suffering or sadness never knows what happiness means.
What is happiness? Different people have different ideas. Some people are rich; they think they are happy. Other people have many friends, so they feel joyful. Still others are delighted because their lives are meaningful. Cheerfulness attracts everyone. For children, gladness often suggests eating something delicious or playing with toys. For a stamp collector, stamps bring more delight than meals. And for a scientist, a discovery or an invention rather than anything else gives him greatest satisfaction.
There was once a beggar who was always happy. The king saw him and wondered why he was so merry. However, the king could have whatever he wanted, yet he himself was not satisfied at all. Thus we can see one's happiness does not depend on whether he is rich or poor. Instead it is a state of mind. As long as one thinks he is content, he is happy.
As everything exists only because of its opposite, happiness exists only when pain has occurred. Just as a person who does not know failure never knows success, a person who has not experienced suffering or sadness never knows what happiness means.
--Yunni in Shenzhen, China
For homework, I asked the students to write an essay, and intentionally overuse a word. Then, with the help of a thesaurus, rewrite their essay. Below are student samples. In this case, the student used the word "world" seven times, then cut it down to just one. Also, to show a continuation, we cut the long line of dots to just four (....). That is because three dots show continuation or a pause, and the fourth dot is the period ending the sentence. She also "cut the clutter" by reducing "people who are not you" to just "others." Whenever you can cut words and lose no meaning, do so.
What will the world be when everything that is sphere changed into cubes? Can you imagine a world like that? There will be no soccer, no basketball, no volleyball, no……. To solve this problem, first, we need to invent new kinds of umbrellas and raincoats due to the cube-sized rain all around the world. Second, we might have to invent new vehicles that does not need to use wheels, then scientist from the whole world will need to work extremely hard on that topic. Third, the old myth that sailors might fell down the edge of the world will simply come true. However, we all know that our world is a sphere, and none of that condition will really happen in our real world. Sometimes it is good to think in an exactly different way compared with people who are not you.
What would our Earth be like if everything that is a sphere changed into cubes? Can you imagine a world like that? There would be no soccer, no basketball, no volleyball, no…. To solve this problem, first, we would need to invent new kinds of umbrellas and raincoats due to the cube-shaped rain everywhere. Second, we might have to design new vehicles that do not need to use wheels, then international scientist teams would need to work extremely hard on that topic. Third, the old myth that sailors might fall off the edge of the ocean would come true. However, we all know that the Earth is a sphere, and none of these conditions will actually happen in our real lives. Sometimes it is good to think in an exactly different way compared with others.
--Felicia in Taipei, Taiwan
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A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.dreyercoaching.com/en/about/scott-dreyer
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