11+ Spotting Synonyms illustration | Antonmys
Synonyms and antonyms feature heavily in the 11+ Verbal Reasoning exam.

VR - Spotting Synonyms

This article was formerly a part of Spotting Synonyms or Antonyms and Answering Questions About Words. For the sake of clarity, that has now been split into three more specific articles. To read the information which used to be included, see Answering Questions About Words and Opposite Meaning.

Synonyms and antonyms crop up quite often in the 11+ Verbal Reasoning exam. Perhaps you have already read our earlier article, Same Meaning. If so, you’ll remember, synonyms are words which mean the same thing, or something similar. In a similar way, antonyms are words which mean the opposite to each other.

Here’s a list of synonyms and antonyms to give you the idea:

WordSynonymAntonym
AngryIrateCalm
BeautifulGorgeousUgly
ColdChillyWarm
DangerPerilSafety
EvilWickedGood
FoolishSillyWise
GreatVastSmall
HelpfulObligingUseless
InclineSlopeDeter
JustFairBiased
Keen EagerIndifferent
LongLengthyShort
MeekHumbleAssertive
NaïveGreenSophisticated
OldAgedYoung
ProudPompousModest
QueerUnusualOrdinary
RobustStrongWeak
SevereHarshGentle
ToilWorkRest
UnderBeneathAbove
VileHorridLovely
WorryConcernFearlessness
eXtrovertOutgoingIntrovert
Yonder DistantClose
ZoomWhizzCrawl

A thesaurus (and some dictionaries) will list synonyms and antonyms for words. It’s a great idea to purchase one for your child.

One form that questions about synonyms take is Closest Meaning. These questions are all about finding synonyms for words. They are one of the more common types to be found in Verbal Reasoning papers. They are not too difficult to do, and most children get the general idea with minimal explanation. However, there are certainly some traps that the question setters are going to use to catch out the unwary.

How Are Closest Meaning Questions Used In The Exam?

Candidates are shown either two groups of words or one longer group of words. They are then asked to pick two words (if there are two groups of word, they will be asked to choose one word from each group) that are the closest in meaning to each other.

Let’s show you some examples, starting with the easier option in which candidates must choose one word from each group:

Example Question One


Find TWO words, one from each group, that are closest in meaning.

(develop trough bucket)
(pale grow thought)

This example is hopefully fairly straightforward. The top row contains the word 'develop' and the bottom row of words has 'grow' in it. These two may be used to replace one another in certain sentences without changing the meaning. Therefore, they are synonyms, and this is the right answer.

So where are the tricks? What will your child get wrong and have to watch out for? There are two in this question:

Look at the word 'bucket' in the first row. If someone asked you to come up with another word for it, you would probably come up with 'pail'. That's the reason that the question setter will have put in 'pale' in the second set of words.

There is also a similarity between the spellings of the words 'trough' and 'thought' so the most careless might decide that they look alike so have a connection.

Now let’s look at the second way in which these questions can be presented. This time there is only one group of words, which makes things just a little harder:

Example Question Two


Find TWO words from the following group of words that are the CLOSEST in meaning.

(sort collect find feel type discovered)

This time the answer may not come to you as easily as it did in the first example. Let's work it out carefully - remember, even if you know the answer straight away, if you're teaching your child you will need to see things from their perspective. A good teacher ignores the urge to say, 'It's simple, why can't you see it?' as it helps no-one!

Let's think about the word classes being presented. All could be verbs - that's not terribly helpful.

'Discovered' is a past tense and no others are, so that cannot be part of the answer. It doesn't matter how close in meaning they are, if you are asked for a synonym and one is in a different tense to another or is an adverb when the first is an adjective, they cannot be synonyms. They are simply words with CONNECTED meanings.

As verbs, none of the words seem to be synonymous. Most of them can, when you think about it, also be nouns.

With this in mind, can you create a sentence in which one can be replaced with another and retain the meaning?

Can you take one of the words at a time and think of alternative words for it? If so, are any of them in the group?

Can you think of different meanings for the words? For example, 'find' means 'to discover'. It can also mean 'a discovery', and is therefore both verb and noun.

In case you've not spotted it, 'sort' and 'type' can be interchangeable. 'The wrong sort of person' could become 'the wrong type of person' without really changing the meaning. They are the answers.

Sample Tests

So, now we’ve studied Closest Meaning questions, it’s time to put your child to the test. There are four quizzes on the Education Quizzes site on this topic – and we’ve used the slightly harder format to present more of a challenge.

Have a go at all 40 questions with your child. If they get stuck, then use the techniques we’ve shown you in this lesson to help them. You’ll find the quizzes in our Eleven Plus Verbal Reasoning section or, alternatively, you can follow these links:

Closest Meaning 1

Closest Meaning 2

Closest Meaning 3

Closest Meaning 4

A strong vocabulary is the best weapon in your child’s armoury for these, and many other types of question in the Verbal Reasoning exam. Another way to boost your child’s chances of success is to encourage them to read. It’s also useful if they browse a dictionary and make note of any words they do not yet know. Good luck!

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