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These are the words I learned today. Are they basically the same, or are they usually used in different contexts? I checked the Google Ngram Viewer and it turns out that "presage" and "omen" are used much more commonly than the others, is it because these two are somewhat more colloquial?

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closed as not a real question by onomatomaniak, Hugo, Jasper Loy, kiamlaluno, waiwai933 Nov 15 '11 at 5:44

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

And when you're done answering this, can you please explain the differences between each of the 500 Sami words for snow? –  onomatomaniak Oct 25 '11 at 11:33
@onomatomaniak: Apologize for my ignorance if it offenses you, but I just started to learn English as a foreign language. If you think they are completely the same in meaning, just tell me. Or simply point it out if any one of them is conspicuously different than others. –  trVoldemort Oct 25 '11 at 11:42
I certainly don't think you're ignorant, and your question doesn't offend me - it just seems far too broad to be answered satisfactorily. While there are subtle differences that a dictionary can help you with, they're all pretty similar. "Omen" is almost always used as a noun, and "betoken" is rarely used at all. (And if you've only just started to learn English, 1) you're a very fast learner - congrats, and 2) don't worry about the differences between these words.) –  onomatomaniak Oct 25 '11 at 11:47
@onomatomaniak: Thank you for your encouragement and compliment. And by "just started" I meant I had been taught of "some" English in high school, but little did that help me use English fluently. So I just start to teach myself some more. –  trVoldemort Oct 25 '11 at 11:59
Maybe our learned participants can suggest a reference book (or site) for Mr Voldemort that will explain such shades of meaning for words with related meanings. –  GEdgar Oct 25 '11 at 18:58

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

As Benny notes, "omen" is generally used as a noun, while the others are all verbs. (I see that the dictionary says that "omen" can be used as a verb, but I don't recall ever seeing it used that way.)

Besides that, the words all mean pretty much the same thing in English.

There may be some subtle differences in connotation in current usage. Word origins aside, "augur" and "portend" are usually used in a mystical or occult sense, while "bode" and "presage" are generally used in more mundance contexts. Like, someone is more likely to say, "The fulfillment of this ancient prophecy portends the coming of a dark age" then to say that it "presages" it. But they'd say, "A decline in the stock market presages an increase in unemployment rates".

In practice, "bode" is almost only used to say that something "bodes well" or "bodes ill". It's very rare for someone to say, "This bodes a change in the weather" or any other words following "bodes".

But frankly I'm being very subjective here. If someone actually has statistics on usage I'd be amused to hear it.

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Thank you, Jay. I checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English and it turned out you are right. The top following words of "bode" are: WELL (330+176); MILLER (59, and that's a ski racer's name!); ILL (42+25). –  trVoldemort Oct 26 '11 at 8:51
I guess maybe you native speakers didn't realize it, but even a little hint of how often or under what circumstances are words actually used in communications can help us a lot, because it is harder than you think to search for these in dictionaries or using some corpus. –  trVoldemort Oct 26 '11 at 9:00
@trVoldemort: I don't know how it is in your native language. Frankly, even for people who grew up speaking English, it's easy to get tripped up by subtle differences in meaning of new words. People often make statements that sound funny because they used a word based on a dictionary definition without knowing the connotations. –  Jay Oct 26 '11 at 17:16

I'd say that they are all pretty interchangeable, but "omen" is most often used as a noun.

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For practical purposes, I'd say they're the same. Presage and omen are commoner, probably because they have a wider range of possible uses: you can say "A red sunset is an omen of rain to come", but ?'augurs rain to come', while not wrong, sounds odd. In fact, I would say that augur, portend, and bode are only followed by 'good/bad' or 'well/ill', probably for reasons connected with etymology (which you really don't want to go into here).

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If trVoldemort's native language is latin in family, reviewing the etymology of these words is probably the fastest way to appreciate their different nuances. –  jwpat7 Nov 6 '11 at 18:07
@jwpat: that's the fastest way to confusion, IMHO. Augury and omen were inextricably connected originally, but in English they are (subtly) different. –  TimLymington Nov 6 '11 at 19:46

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