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How to Use Roget's Thesaurus
By Joan Whetzel
Roget's Thesaurus is an extremely useful reference book that has a place in every library. It lists words under major categories or classifications (in the classification section of the book), lists word entries in numerical order by classification (in the body), and alphabetically (in the index). Sub-entries consist of mainly nouns and verbs, with some adjectives and adverbs, all of them synonyms or antonyms of the main entry word. While Word for windows has its own version of a thesaurus, and there are many online versions of a thesaurus, Roget's Thesaurus - offered in book an e-book formats - appears to be more comprehensive.
The Classifications or Categories Section
The first section of Roget's Thesaurus breaks this word treasury into 15 classifications:
¨ The Body and the Senses
¨ Place and Change of Place
¨ Measure and Shape
¨ Living Things
¨ Natural Phenomena
¨ Behavior and the Will
¨ Human Behavior and Societies
¨ Values and Ideals
¨ Occupations and Crafts
¨ Sports and Amusements
¨ The Mind and Ideas
¨ Science and Technology
Each classification breaks down into a list of words assigned a root entry number. No page numbers are listed because words are meant to be looked up in a similar manner to looking up words in a dictionary or subjects in an encyclopedia. Using the classification section of Roget's Thesaurus is perfect for when you know the category of words you want to look up: sound words (splat, whack) or technology words (radio, electronics). Then locate the entry number in the body of the book to find the entire list of synonyms and antonyms related to the that concept.
The Body of the Book - The Entries
Words in the body of Roget's Thesaurus are listed in numerical order by classification entry number. They consist primarily of verbs and nouns, with some adjectives and adverbs. Entries in the body of the book are decimalized, meaning that sub-entry words are grouped together by single- or double digit numbers after the decimal point. Each group of words grouped by sub-entry are closely related to each other, meaning they share a similar nuance.
For instance, the main entry number 255 is tied to the word "Subtraction". There are several sub-entries for subtraction. The higher the sub-entry number, the further down the list it is from the main entry. Each sub-entry usually has several words that are closely related, separated by commas. Sub-entry 255.9, for instance is the 9th group of words listed under "Subtraction" and begins with the word "subtract." Other entries under sub-entry 255.9 include: deduct, subduct, take away, take from, remove… You can see that all these word fit under the "Subtraction" entry, yet are most closely associated with the sub-entry word "subtract."
The index of Roget's Thesaurus lists the most frequently looked up words in alphabetical order along with their decimalized entry numbers. From there either look up the word - by entry number - with the closest meaning to the word you are looking for. If you need help narrowing it down a bit, look up the main number in the classification section, to see what category it falls under. This way you can eliminate the ones you know aren't correct. Look at this index entry for the word "bleed."
let blood 91.27
draw off 192.12
take from 480.21
In this case, hemorrhage and let blood have to do with The Body, suffer and grieve fall under Feelings, exude and draw off are categorized under Place or Change of Place, exploit, take from, and strip fit into the classification of Behavior and the Will, while overprice fits into the classification of Human Society and Institutions. Once you've narrowed your choices down, you only need to turn to about 1 or 2 pages to find your best word choice.
Online and Word for Windows Thesaurus
A brief word about online and the Word for Windows versions of a thesaurus. Most online thesauri have the enter a word. The thesaurus renders a list of synonyms, and sometimes antonyms. The lists they provide are quite good, but are usually not as complete as Roget's. Same thing goes for the Word for Windows Thesaurus.
In the Word for Windows version, simply highlight the word then click on the "thesaurus" tab in the Windows toolbar. A pull down box will appear on the right-hand side of the page with synonyms - and a few antonyms form many words. Either click on a word that's a likely candidate and see what words it refers you to. Don't see the word you want, hit the "back" button and choose another word. Once you've found the word you're looking for, run your mouse over it so that an arrow appears to the right of the word. Click on the arrow and choose from one of three choices - "insert", "copy", or "look up". Choosing "insert" replaces that word for the highlighted word.
Both online and Word for Windows version or the thesaurus are good, but for a more complete version I recommend the book or e-book version of Roget's Thesaurus.
Looking up synonyms or antonyms in the book version of Roget's Thesaurus is done easily by checking under the category/classification, the index, or the body of the book to find they word with just the right nuance for your writing. So next time you're stuck trying to disseminate an idea or when you don't know or can't find the right word or phrase, crack open your Roget's Thesaurus and let your fingers do the walking through the pages.