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One of the marking criteria for the IELTS test is lexical resource where the examiner assesses your ability to demonstrate vocabulary flexibly and fluency. Learning antonyms and synonyms is great way to add new words to your vocabulary.

What are synonyms and antonyms?

A basic definition of a synonym is a word that has a similar or identical meaning to another word it is compared to.  For example, a synonym for ‘big’ is ‘large’. 

An antonym on the other hand, is when the second word is opposite to the first one, such as with ‘big’ compared to ‘small’.

Synonyms and antonyms in the Listening and Reading test

However, in the IELTS test, the synonyms and antonyms that appear in the Reading test and Listening test are not always that obvious.  During the Listening test for example, the speaker may use negatives to flip the meaning compared to the question or multiple choice options. 

These negatives can be with the use of ‘not’, as in ‘isn’t’, ‘can’t’, etc., or with words like ‘never’.  You may even find that the speakers use longer discourse to portray this, like ‘I wouldn’t exactly say that it is something that I would recommend.’.

In both the IELTS Reading and IELTS Listening tests, make sure that you don’t duplicate a word in your answer with a word in the question. 

To use a sentence completion task as an example, the question could be presented like this:

24.  Most of the advice was given by _____________without higher level education.

If the speaker in the IELTS Listening test or the text in the IELTS Reading test says ‘The majority of the recommendations were offered by non-academic staff members.’, then there is no need to include ‘non-academic’ in your answer.  This is because ‘without higher level education’ would be considered as a synonym for ‘non-academic’.

How to use synonyms and antonyms in the Writing and Speaking test?

When it comes to the IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking tests, it is useful to use a variety of vocabulary so the examiner can see that you have a good range. 

When considering synonyms and antonyms, also think about which words are less common. For instance, ‘commence’ is less common than ‘start’ and so it would be useful to use this first. ‘From the onset’ is a good way to paraphrase ‘In the beginning’ for example, so make sure that you are aware of the whole collocation as well.


Below are lists of words. Determine if each is a list of synonyms or antonyms.

  1. Happy: sad, unhappy, sorrowful, regretful, depressed

  2. Love: fondness, tenderness, intimacy, endearment, doting

  3. Teach: educate, instruct, school, coach, train

  4. Start: end, halt, stop, cease

  5. Smart: astute, brainy, clever, wise, bright

Answers: 1) antonyms 2) synonyms 3) synonyms 4) antonyms 5) synonyms

We hope you found this information useful.
Stay tuned to our articles for more tips from IELTS Experts.

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About this Article

Published on May 07, 2021

About this Author

Person - Rocco Nigro - Global