Do synonyms work both ways?

If "word A" is a synonym of "word B" does that means "word B" is a synonym of "word A"?

I suspect they are!

EDIT: (Updating to cite sources as requested)

I googled "are synonyms symmetrical" but the results were skewed as the word "synonym" seems to be interpreted as if I'm looking for a synonym of the word "symmetrical".

  • 2
    Synonyms may share a high percentage of meaning/nuance/association, but every word is different so they can never be 100% the same. It seems likely to me that there will be synonyms that work better one way round than the other...
    – Dan
    Feb 2 '17 at 23:16
  • 1
    Hello @Ev01, Please include in your question(s) any research conducted and cite sources. Ideally questions on English Language & Usage should reflect some research effort.
    – freeling10
    Feb 2 '17 at 23:17
  • 3
    No: see transitivity/symetry of synonyms
    – Graffito
    Feb 2 '17 at 23:18

I was able to find a study that looked at this. They looked at synonyms in a single thesaurus:

The synonyms of a headword w are whatever words are listed in the entry for w in an on-line version of The New Collins Thesaurus (1984) (CT). According to the authors, "...no synonym is entered unless it is fully substitutable for the headword in a sensible English sentence"

The paper reveals that the thesaurus has a lot of asymmetry:

62% [of synonymy links] are asymmetric (e.g., part has department as a synonym, but department does not have part)

They found several reasons for this asymmetry, most of which can be chalked up to omissions. However, a substantial portion of the asymmetry (18%) was due to hypernymy:

For example, book lists manual as a synonym, but manual does not list book; instead special types of books such as handbook are given. This is because book is really a hypernym (not a synonym) of manual. Hypernym links are truly asymmetric in nature.
A Tool for Investigating Tile Synonymy Relation in a Sense Disambiguated Thesaurus

  • Very interesting. Thanks for the thoughtful and accurate response! :)
    – Ev01
    Feb 6 '17 at 2:14

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