Careful writers are punctilious about which word to use from among a bevy of related words. Somehow they are always inch-perfect as regards finer points. If one looks up words in dictionaries, distinction between near synonyms are hard to come by. I suppose same could be said of thesauruses.

Could anyone please suggest some proper sources that highlight such distinctions?

Now while I am writing this, I am positive that a more careful writer would replace bevy with a proper synonym of the word that would sound better in this context. bevy just sprang to my mind as I was writing and so I went with it. But I think it isn't the relevant synonym of, um, group. And that's basically what my question is all about.

Thanks in advance

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    The piece itself reads like a 'how not to write' example. A 'beau'? Really? Nov 8, 2020 at 8:43
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    Surely the proper sources that highlight distinctions are dictionaries (although you may have to look up the different words which a thesaurus might suggest, read the dictionary definitions and come to your own conclusions). There are very few exact synonyms, for words all have their own connotations, which are also coloured by context. Bevy is never going to be an exact synonym for group, or we would not need two different words.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 8, 2020 at 9:08
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    And now you've changed exact to relevant, the comparison depends entirely on context. Could you edit your question with a pertinent illustration? Perhaps how you found bevy not to be suitable? What did you do to reach that conclusion? Please quote the dictionary definitions you found, with their sources, since you're effectively asking about research methodology.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 8, 2020 at 9:13
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    It sounds like the OP wants an algorithm to produce 'good' writing. When I wrote that the piece quoted was an example of how not to write, I meant that it seems as if the writer had always used a 'high-faluting' word or phrase in preference to a normal one. There are such things as register and tone. A policeman might say, in a report, 'I observed a group of young females', and a poet might write 'All at once a bevy of maidens passed before my eyes'. There are no short cuts apart from wide reading and listening. A good dose of ability is helpful. Nov 8, 2020 at 9:29
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    Try reading Ernest Hemingway to see how economical writing can work. Nov 8, 2020 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


English has very, very few "true synonyms" - by and large, each similar word (or phrase) carries an individual nuance.

Whereas I agree with Michael Harvey that there are no shortcuts, I suggest the OED, which gives examples in context.

Here, the important point is to note the differences - not the similarities


  1. transferred. A company of any kind; rarely, a collection of objects.


  1. A number of things placed together as the result of deliberate arrangement or composition.

2 b. A number of people or animals standing, positioned, or located close together so as to form a collective unity.

The OED also give etymologies and, at the risk of the etymological fallacy, it is always worthwhile considering a word's original associations.

Bevy is not a good example, as its etymology is unclear, but it seems to be associated with pleasure and is thus positive.

Group originates in a military detachment and is therefore neutral.

A caveat is that the OED is not, as yet, fully updated and a lot of modern usage is excluded.

Then there is Google Ngram Viewer which will give frequency results that can usually be checked in context, but this is restricted to published works.

Google Ngram Viewer Search term a bevy of * and then 'a group of *' (and thereafter checking a representative number of examples in BE and AE.

Then there is the British National Corpus and American Corpus.

And then there is the "Online Collocation Dictionary" https://www.freecollocation.com/

I imagine that combining all the above and your current knowledge will probably reduce the error rate in your decisions to about 2%.

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    A good answer. I wonder if the question is a better fit for Writing Stack Exchange? I feel that one of the cardinal sins that a writer can fall into is excessive 'elegant variation'. Sub-editors at The Guardian call "gratuitous synonyms" "povs", an acronym of "popular orange vegetables"—a phrase that was removed from the draft of an article about carrots in the Liverpool Echo. Also, "elongated yellow fruit", a presumed synonym of "banana" was found in the Boston Evening Transcript. Nov 8, 2020 at 11:09
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    @MichaelHarvey Those examples remind me of the (probably apocraphal) story of the American road sign that said 'Impaired vertical development' instead of 'low bridge'
    – BoldBen
    Nov 8, 2020 at 11:45
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    In the late 1970s I worked in an engineering company as a quality control inspector, and I was called to the machine shop to adjudicate on something in a drawing. I had been to the pub the night before. I felt it was better to lay the drawing down somewhere under a good light rather than hold it up, but somehow I couldn't find the word 'bench' in my vocabulary. I suggested we find a 'horizontal surface'. Those guys never let me forget that. Nov 8, 2020 at 11:58
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    I think perhaps the morning toke was more to blame for the vocabulary deficit. Nov 8, 2020 at 13:01
  • Thanks a lot @Greybeard for your very helpful answer!
    – user403195
    Nov 8, 2020 at 13:20

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