Dictionaries and thesauri are reference books that every writer needs to keep close by. A dictionary should be consulted not only to find the meanings of words, but also to check for their correct spelling. The spell-check feature in Word is great, but you will run into problems if you misspell the word that needs to be used by accidentally using a completely different word that is spelled correctly. Your spell-checker doesn't have a brain. How is it supposed to know that you meant to use another word?
Saham sent a viscuos volley of small arms and mortars into the advancing army.
Take a second to read through the above sentence and see if you can spot the mistake. Did you manage to find it? Viscuos is the incorrect word. Not only is it spelled wrong, it was not the word meant to be used. Viscous means thick and sticky. The word that the author meant to use was vicious. The sentence should read - Saham sent a vicious volley of small arms and mortar into the advancing army.
Now, see if you can discover the wrong word in this sentence - In twenty minuets, we find a place to hide and take cover.
This is one that the spell-checker would not have caught. Minuets is a word and it is spelled correctly, but a minuet is either a particular dance or the music for that type of dance, not a passage of time. The word meant to be used was minutes.
Then we have homonyms, words that sound just alike, but have different meanings and completely different spellings. These words confuse so many individuals. Many people who wouldn't notice if you mixed-up some homonyms, but as a writer, you really don't want to use the wrong word. There, their, and they're are some great examples of frequently confused homonyms. There tells location - The shoes are over there in the corner. Their is possessive and shows ownership - Their shoes are over there in the corner. They're is a contraction and means 'they are' - They're on the way to get their shoes from over there. Your spell-checker would not count any of the above homonyms wrong, even if you used them in an incorrect way.
If a word is used in a way that you think could be wrong, you might want to look up the definition. You might just not be familiar with all of its meanings. For example, did you know that the word 'candle' can also be a verb? Don't believe me? Look it up.
Why would a thesaurus, a book that contains lists of synonyms, be needed? A synonym is a word that means almost the exact same thing as another word, but it does not sound the same and is spelled completely different. Hat is the example word I am going to use.
Let's say you have a character who is known for wearing a hat. You don't want to say that he just wears a hat; there are so many different types of hats and they each look so unique.
If your character happens to live in Australia, perhaps he would wear a bush hat, a cowboy hat with the brim turned up on one side. A sombrero, a Mexican broad hat made of straw or felt, would be worn if your character was in Mexico. Does your character dress like Sherlock Holmes? Then he would wear a deerstalker. One in the Scottish Highland Military would wear a glengarry.
What about your female characters? A soft, domelike hat for women that is pulled down over the forehead is a cloche. A bejeweled, decorated skullcap for weddings and evening wear is a Juliet. A knitted winter hat is known as a watch cap.
All of the above words for hat, as well as their meanings, can be found in Roget's Super Thesaurus, Second Edition.
“What does it matter if there are fifty different ways to say something?” you ask. “If it is a hat, I'll just call it a hat.” Have you ever read a paragraph or a page where the exact same word is repeated time and time again? Maybe I'm the only one that it affects this way, but that drives me crazy. The story loses some of its oomph and becomes a real drag to read if that happens.
The light fixtures were the first thing Mary looked at when she entered the room. So many beautiful ones sat all around the room, she couldn't stop looking at each one of them. The first one she looked at looked as though it would cast a warm, soft glow throughout whatever room it was in.
That was a terrible, boring paragraph without hopes of going anywhere. Let me see if I can help it any at all.
The light fixtures were the first thing Mary beheld when she entered the room. So many beautiful ones were displayed around the room, she couldn't resist admiring them individually. The first one she feasted her eyes on appeared as though it would cast a warm, soft glow throughout whatever room it graced.
I think you will agree the second example is so much easier to read. With a thesaurus, you can make sure you use a variety of words that will help you magically transform whatever you write into something interesting and fun to read.
When online, you can go to www.onelook.com if you need to look up the definition of a word. This site gives you a list of online dictionaries that define the word you need. For a thesaurus, go to www.thesaurus.com. Both of these sites are visited frequently by me.