I am under the impression that few words have perfect synonyms that are interchangeable in all contexts considering their different connotations or literal meanings. Is there a difference between Devoid and Bereft? For example, in the famous Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch, the parrot is said to be "...bereft of life-it rests in peace!" Could devoid work in that sentence?

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    Suppose it turns out there's no life currently on Mars. It might be more appropriate to say Mars is bereft of life if there's evidence that it did exist there before (the planet is "deprived" of what it once had). To my mind, saying it's devoid of life carries more of the implication that it never had any life before either (equivalent to simply saying it's lifeless). An "ex-parrot" can (famously) be bereft of life, where a toy parrot might only be devoid of life. – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '15 at 16:45

The usual connotation of devoid is that a normally-expected, or even possibly-expected, thing or quality is missing:

I looked out over the hills, but they were completely devoid of motion: not so much as a blade of grass stirred.

The usual connotation of bereft is that a normally-expected thing or quality has been removed:

After his revelation, I sat there with my mouth agape, bereft of speech.

To me, then, a parrot that is devoid of life would be a manufactured, artificial animal that was never alive; a parrot that is bereft of life is one that was alive at one point but is now deceased, passed on, gone to meet its maker, shuffled off its mortal coil, crossed over the great divide, and so forth.

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  • Haha - same distinction between "once-living" and "never alive" parrots I was making in my comment while you were composing this answer. (Obviously +1 :) – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '15 at 16:49
  • You seem to be suggesting devoid and bereft are mutually exclusive (per your opinion that one describes an artificial parrot and the other describes one which once lived), but your definitions suggest they aren't (e.g. a parrot is "normally-expected or possibly-expected" to be alive, so a dead parrot is devoid of life, and if it was killed then it is also bereft of life). – talrnu Aug 26 '15 at 19:55

"Bereft" can be applied to people with roughly the same sense as "bereaved" (in this sense, it can stand alone and does not have to take an adjective complement); "devoid" can't be used this way.

(of a person) sad and lonely because you have lost something

  • He was utterly bereft when his wife died.
  • The shock of his departure had left her feeling alone and bereft.

from Oxford Learner's Dictionaries

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