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I encountered a word dawn and I have a feeling I understood the meaning in context. For example,

1) It dawned on him that she had loved him.

means

2) It entered his consciousness that she had loved him.

I noticed that no dictionary states realize as a synonym of dawn.

3) He realized that she had loved him.

Is there a difference in meaning between 1 and 3? Could these two words be synonyms in dictionaries?

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Because they have different syntactical expectations, they cannot be synonyms, as @GrahamBorland points out. It is unfortunate though since the meaning is pretty close. For example, 'bring' is not a synonym of 'take', but you'd wish that some kind of link would be made in a dictionary. –  Mitch Apr 5 '12 at 13:15
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I realized it. Words are not synonyms, though the sentences have very similar meaning so "dawn" could be defined (explained) with the help of "suddenly realize" as Raku writes. –  xralf Apr 5 '12 at 13:50
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Reading your question, 'dawn' sounds like an obvious dead metaphor and reversed syntax version of 'realize', but looking up in thesauruses, the intransitive verb meaning only tantalizingly comes nearby 'to occur to'. –  Mitch Apr 6 '12 at 1:53
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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The usual meaning of "dawn" is "sunrise". It is used in a poetic way here to describe that after a long period of darkness, where the person just did not realize something, he finally came to the right conclusion.

The word "realize" itself makes no implication about how much time it took the person to come to this conclusion.

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Dawn is not a synonym for realize; however, the verbal phrase dawn on could be considered synonymous.

The trick is finding a dictionary that recognizes (and lists) dawn on as an entity in its own right.

From Macmillan:

dawn on someone if something dawns on you, you realize it for the first time: It was several months before the truth finally dawned on me.

From Wiktionary:

dawn on (idiomatic, of an idea) to occur to somebody; to be realized: It finally dawned on him that he could automate the process instead of doing it by hand each time.

Both reference realize in their definitions.

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Thanks. Great dictionary with phrasal verbs. I like it. –  xralf Apr 6 '12 at 12:51
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The verbs dawn and realize work in opposite directions. In 1, the idea is the subject and he is the object. In 3, he is the subject and the idea is the object.

So, they are not synonyms.

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This is currently the only answer that matches the question. Why is there no green tick displayed here? –  user16269 Apr 5 '12 at 10:29
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Also you can realize your dreams, but they do not usually dawn on you. –  user14070 Apr 5 '12 at 13:00
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@DavidWallace: It's a reasonable practice to wait a bit, not immediately accept an answer, to encourage people to possibly come up with alternatives. You might think this is the best (voting seems to agree), but you never know, and the expectation of the OP may be different (despite what they may actualy write in their question). –  Mitch Apr 5 '12 at 13:04
    
@DavidWallace This answer is good as well, but the other gives me more information. I was aware of the fact that there is different grammar. Each answer answers one of my two questions. –  xralf Apr 5 '12 at 13:57
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