31 Synonyms for Common Words That Will Make You Sound Like a Genius
Transform into a thesaurus and dazzle your peers.
It’s never a bad time to try and increase your vocabulary. Adding more words to your repertoire is an effortless way to raise your esteem of the eyes of others. Plus, a deep vocabulary helps you process information faster, and can even help you think in brand new ways. And there’s no better way to strengthen your internal thesaurus than in conversation.
So, see if you can work these synonyms (all sourced from good ole Merriam-Webster) for common words into your daily life. You’ll elevate your language, boost your brain function, and, most importantly, impress everyone around you.
Livid (in place of “Angry”)
Why be simply mad when you could be livid? Derived from the French livide (from the Latin lividus or livēre, to be blue), livid can also refer to the discoloration around a bruise or even the ashy pallor of a corpse. Thanks to all that, it communicates a degree of intensity that simply doesn’t exist in a word as tame as angry. You could also use apoplectic or irate to really make your point.
Example: “My boss was livid when he realized I messed up the annual report.”
Ascertain (in place of “Figure out”)
From the Middle English acertainen (“to inform” or “give assurance to”), ascertain is a verb meaning “to find out or learn with certainty.” When you are aware of what you don’t know, you might need to ascertain, discover, or determine the truth.
Example: “Before I book the flight, I need to ascertain how it impacts my finances.”
Amalgam (in place of “Combination”)
When you amalgamate things, you’re merging, blending, or uniting them; amalgamation is both the process of that action, and a longer way of saying amalgam, or the resulting mixture of different elements. You could also turn to merger or admixture to communicate your meaning. Amalgam comes from Middle English via the Middle French, which got it from Medieval Latin (a common path through history).
Example: “Our breakup was due to an amalgam of issues, but mostly because she completely disrespected my time. I also hated her dog.”
Frigid (in place of “Cold”)
If you’re intensely cold, you might as well add some nuance to your language and say you’re frigid, or freezing. Frigid comes straight from the Latin frigidus, from frigēre (“to be cold”). But this word can also cover the other definitions of cold: if a person is emotionally frigid, they’re indifferent or lack warmth; if a piece of writing is frigid, it’s insipid and lacks imagination.
Example: “Man, you don’t have to be so frigid… You’re allowed to talk about your feelings.”
Exasperated (in place of “Annoyed”)
There’s a lot to be frustrated by these days, but that doesn’t mean you should use the same word over and over again. Exasperated comes from the Latin exasperare; it’s a synonym for frustrated, annoyed, irritated, and aggravated. And if you’re completely done with something or someone, you could also say you’ve reached “the frozen limit.”
Example: “You don’t need to be so exasperated—I followed all your directions exactly.”
Fatigued (in place of “Tired”)
When you come home after a long day at work, all you need to do is remember to tell your roommates/significant other that you are fatigued—weary, even, completely drained of strength and energy—and you’ll automatically get more respect than if you just plopped on the couch and complained about how tired you are. This word comes to us from the French, originally from the Latin fatigare.
Example: “Honestly, vacation left me more fatigued than anything else—my flight was cancelled twice.”
Aghast (in place of “Shook”)
Aghast is from the Middle English verb gasten, meaning “to frighten” (which also gave us ghastly); gasten comes from gast, a Middle English spelling of ghost. When you want to describe how unnerved, shocked, or upset you are, elevate your language by using aghast in place of shook.
Example: “That suit is horrible. I’m aghast that he would ever consider wearing something like that. So out of character.”
Mercurial (in place of “Moody”)
From the Latin adjective mercurialis, the adjective mercurial was first associated with qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness because of its connection to the Roman god Mercury (known in the Greek pantheon as Hermes). Nowadays, the word means “unpredictably changeable.” If you’re prone to mood swings that affect your behavior, you could also be described as capricious, fickle, or temperamental.
Example: “My boss is totally mercurial. I have no idea how she’ll react to things.”
Fallacious (in place of “False”)
Invalid, irrational, and illogical are other synonyms for fallacious, a word for something that tends to deceive or mislead. Originally from the Latin verb fallere, “to deceive” (which also gave us fault, fail, and false), fallacious made its way to our modern language in the early 1500s by passing through other Latin and French forms.
Example: “For some reason, he’s holding onto the fallacious belief that you can function on four hours of sleep per night.”
Uncouth (in place of “Rude”)
It’s always a pleasure to call someone out for being rude, but this time you can bring it up a notch and call attention to their awkward, uncultivated behavior or manner by calling them uncouth, boorish, or churlish. Originally meaning “unfamiliar,” uncouth derives from the Old English uncūth. The change in meaning happened naturally, since it’s not a far jump from calling something unfamiliar to calling it strange or unpleasant.
Example: “That uncouth behavior is going to get Mark kicked out of the bar!”
Egregious (in place of “Awful”)
For something obviously awful, feel free to upgrade your put-down to egregious. It derives from the Latin egregius, meaning “eminent” or “distinguished”—but over the years, it took on a less positive connotation, and now can be substituted for conspicuous or flagrant.
Example: “No, I have no idea why I didn’t promoted—but it’s an egregious oversight that I’m certainly going to bring up.”
Profess (in place of “Declare,” often falsely)
Sure, you can use declare and be ambiguous, but if you want to state your disbelief of a declaration, say that the person professed their good wishes and you’ll be subtly communicating to those in the know that you doubt their sincerity and think the person is actually bluffing or dissembling. This word made its way into our lexicon from the Latin profitēri by way of the familiar Anglo-French to Middle English sidestep.
Example: “He professed his commitment to his girlfriend, but he was actually dating two other women.”
Aver (in place of “Declare,” in a positive way)
If you want to declare something beyond a shadow of a doubt, feel free to aver the fact instead — since aver contains the “truth” root, it essentially means “to confirm as true.” It originated from the Latin combination ad- + verus (for true), and made its way through Medieval Latin to Anglo-French to the Middle English averren. You could also affirm, insist, or maintain something that you are sure of.
Example: “Last month, I averred that this restaurant makes the best hamburger I’ve ever had, and I proudly stand by that statement.”
Keen on/to (in place of “Excited”)
As an alternative to reiterating how excited you are about something, tell people you’re keen to go or keen on going. It’ll communicate that you’re enthusiastic or eager about the event while giving you a bit more gravitas and cool factor—especially since this word can be traced back to Old English (cēne, for “brave”); it got its modern meaning from the Middle English kene. (Keen also means intellectually astute, perceptive, or alert, so it’s also a perfect synonym for “clever.”)
Example: “I was keen to grab drinks later, since I’d never met Greg’s friend.”
Intriguing (in place of “Interesting”)
When you call something interesting, it really depends on tone and circumstance to figure out if you’re throwing shade or honestly find the topic to be of interest. Intriguing—which has its roots in a French acquisition of the Italian intrigo, originally from Latin—can be used in the same way, as can fascinating.
Example: “The art show I saw over the weekend was… intriguing, to say the least.”
Curious (in place of “Weird”)
Curious, from the Latin curiosus for careful or inquisitive, is most common as an adjective describing an inquisitive interest in something or a desire to investigate—but it can also be used to describe something you find odd or weird.
Example: “What a curious question, Melissa.”
Astute (in place of “Smart”)
For another way to compliment someone’s intelligence, give astute a try, which derives from the Latin astutus. Other acceptable synonyms are brilliant, discerning, or perspicacious.
Example: “Wow, very astute comment, Steve.”
Caitiff (in place of “Jerk”)
Though sadly rare in our modern language, this is one word that should be brought back. Both a noun and adjective, caitiff has been used since the 14th century to refer to a base, cowardly, or despicable person. It derives from the Middle English caitif, which came from the Anglo-French chaitif for “wretched” or “despicable”; it can be traced back to the Latin captivus for “captive.” Though not exactly the same as jerk, it carries a bit more weight than obnoxious and isn’t as vulgar as most curse words.
Example: “That caitiff just dropped trash on the ground and didn’t pick it up!”
Obtuse (in place of “Stupid”)
A close synonym of blunt or dull, calling someone obtuse implies you think they’re being stupid without resorting to that tired and ableist word. Obtuse is from a Middle English adoption of the Latin obtusus, meaning “blunt” or “dull.”
Example: “She was too obtuse to take the hint that the conversation was over.”
Cunning (in place of “Clever”)
As an adjective for describing something dexterous, wily, or beguiling, you can’t do better than cunning. First used in the 14th century, the word comes from the Middle English (specifically the past participle of can, meaning “know”). To really have fun with the word, deploy it in sports conversation.
Example: “Man, that was such a cunning play! I think this team has a good shot at making the playoffs.”
Adore (in place of “Love”)
You could be an ardent admirer of anything from that pumpkin pie to those sneakers, but switch up your vocabulary to keep your passions interesting. Adore—which comes from a Middle English version of an Anglo-French word borrowed from the Latin adōrāre—also has a similar meaning as revere and venerate, though those words have a more deferential tinge.
Example: “I simply adore when people respond to my emails on the first try. The fact that it happens so rarely just makes it more special.”
Loathe (in place of “Hate”)
When you need to communicate just how much you hate something, look no further than loathe to express your disgust. You could also abhor or detest the item or person in question, but loathe just has that special, guttural oomph that only Old English can give. First used in the 12th century, loathe derives from the Middle English lothen, from the Old English lāthian, “to dislike” or “be hateful.”
Example: “Mary loathes banana bread. Bring brownies instead!”
Stagnant (in place of “On hold”)
From the Latin stagnatus comes stagnant, a word that can communicate when something is not flowing (like a body of water), when it’s stale (such as certain smells), or when it’s not advancing or developing. That last meaning has synonyms in still, motionless, and static, but we prefer the pure Latin of stagnant.
Example: “This project has been stagnant for so long I don’t think they even want us to get the clearance.”
Precisely/Utterly (in place of “Literally”)
Not only is literally overused, it’s often used incorrectly. Wipe it from your vocabulary, and start using exactly or precisely to communicate when something is word for word—“It was precisely a foot long”—and use utterly to communicate the extent of your emotion, or even absolutely or profoundly. Precisely was first used in the 14th century, coming from the Latin praecisus, while utterly is part of our lexicon thanks to the Old English ūtera.
Example: “Inception left me utterly vexed.”
Frugal (in place of “Thrifty”)
If you’re economical about your use of resources, you’re definitely thrifty, but it sounds more important to say you’re frugal or provident, even. Though the word frugal means you’re careful about how you enjoy the fruits of your labor, the origin of the word is actually the Latin frux, which means “fruit” or “value.” Our modern usage also came from Latin, though: the adjective frugalis is a descendant of frux that means “virtuous” or “frugal.”
Example: “Money is tight; we have to be a bit frugal right now.”
Profligate (in place of “Extravagant”)
If something’s just so over-the-top that you need to call attention to its wild extravagance, feel free to toss profligate into the mix. Synonyms include high-rolling, spendthrift, and squandering, and profligate can also mean “shamelessly immoral.” It has a straightforward etymology, coming directly from the Latin profligatus.
Example: “His profligate spending was no doubt a part of why his wife left him.”
Predicament (in place of “Problem”)
When you find yourself in a predicament, meaning “a difficult, perplexing, or trying situation,” calling it something intelligent might make everyone worry less than proclaiming that you have a problem. First used in the 14th century, predicament comes from Middle English, deriving from the Late Latin praedicamentum. Other synonyms include bind, dilemma, and impasse.
Example: “Okay, don’t panic, but we might have a bit of a predicament on our hands: I can’t find the dog.”
Agitated (in place of “Worried”)
Yes, there’s always a lot to be worried about, but that’s why changing up your vocabulary will make people more respectful of your individual dilemmas. Try saying you’re agitated, flustered, or even disturbed instead. Agitated, first used in 1684, comes from the Middle English agitat, which is borrowed from the Latin agitātus.
Example: “I was agitated when when my wife didn’t pick up the phone, but it turned out she just fell asleep watching a movie.”
Delighted (in place of “Happy”)
Making its way to us from the Latin delectare via Anglo-French and Middle English variations, delighted is an elevated way of saying that you’re happy about something. Other appropriate synonyms include pleased, if you’re trying to be low-key, or thrilled, for when you need to bring your enthusiasm up a notch.
Example: “A housewarming party for the neighbors? Sure, I’d be delighted to attend.”
Minutiae (in place of “Details”)
Usually referring to “minor details,” minutiae is a direct steal from the Latin plural minutiae, meaning “trifles” or “details” (the singular is minutia, but the plural is much more common). If Latin isn’t your style, you could also refer to the particulars of whatever you’re working through.
Example: “Don’t worry about the presentation Monday; I’ll take care of the minutiae.”
Punctilious (in place of “Thorough”)
If you’re tired of referring to how thorough someone is, try calling them meticulous or punctilious, which means “concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions.” The word comes into usage in the mid 17th century, probably deriving from the Italian puntiglioso, from the Latin punctum or “prick.”
Example: “She appreciates how punctilious you are, but wanted me to tell you there’s really no need to go so overboard with the drafts.”
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