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A corpus-based Investigation of the Adjectives and Synonyms-“Huge”, “Enormous”, “Immense”, and “Vast”

Yen-Yu Lin
National Chin-Yi University of Technology, Taichung, Taiwan


According to Taylor (1995, p.56), “[P]erfect synonyms – lexical items with the same meaning and which are therefore interchangeable in all contexts – are exceedingly rare.” The present study examines the semantic and usage differences among huge, enormous, immense, and vast. According to the researcher’s review of three learner dictionaries: Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (CALD), Longman Dictionary of Contemporary American English (LDOCE), and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, there is a lack of clarity in definition and description of these four adjectives. Using the Corpus of Contemporary American English as the source data, this study specifically investigated the behavior of huge, enormous, immense, and vast from their various distributional patterns across different semantic types of the nouns modified. The corpus-based analysis yields some interesting findings. For example, even though LDOCE suggests that enormous is synonymous with immense, this study shows that they have different collocational tendencies. Among the top twelve collocates in the pattern of [enormous/immense+NOUN], where enormous collocates with nouns that carry more negative meaning, immense does not. In terms of the relation with modifiers, while the other three adjectives may occur with those emphasizing more on certainty (e.g. absolutely, truly), vast is more inclined to appear with the adverbs with two negative prefixes, un- and in-, which mean “not” or “reversal” (e.g. unimaginably, inconceivably, incomprehensibly, immeasurably). The result suggests that people tend to use vast when describing the extent or quantity is too great or bad to believe or recognize. The important findings may uncover the missing information about these words and benefit the representation of near-synonyms in English learner’s dictionaries. Moreover, the implications may be incorporated into teaching materials. This study can elicit learners’ awareness of considering the contexts in which the words are used.


synonym, corpus, collocation

International Joint Conference of APLX, ETRA40, and TESPA 2023