If you don’t know or can’t remember an exact word – don’t worry! There are lots of things you can do to communicate without saying the exact word. These are very useful strategies that even native speakers use.

General words

If you can’t remember the word ‘surgeon’, you could say a more general word like ‘doctor’.


If you don’t know the word ‘cutlery’, you could give examples such as ‘knife, fork and spoon’.

Relative clauses to give a description

(It’s a person who ... / thing that ... / place where ... )

If you don’t know the word ‘briefcase’, you could say ‘It’s a thing that people use to carry papers to work’.

Describe the purpose or function (It’s used to + infinitive / for + -ing)

If you don’t know the word ‘scissors’, you could say ‘They are used to cut paper’ or ‘They are used for cutting paper’.

This strategy works well with objects that have a clear use or function.

Synonyms (words that mean the same)

If you don’t know the word ‘tiny’, you could say ‘very small’.

This strategy works well with nouns and adjectives.

Antonyms (opposite words)

If you don’t know the word ‘weak’, you could say ‘not strong’.

This strategy works well with adjectives.

Approximations (It’s a kind of ... / It’s a sort of ...)

If you don’t know the word ‘bungalow’, you could say ‘It’s a kind of house’ or ‘It’s a sort of house’.


How well did you do in the exercise?  Do you have any tips to learn and remember synonyms and antonyms?



habtsh's picture
habtsh 6 August, 2017 - 05:13

I like your means of methedology.I hope I get a good result. Currently l have learning English language.

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lienya's picture
lienya 12 February, 2013 - 03:53

ah,when i met a foreigner ,i was so nervous, and i just don;t know what to say.So i always miss the chance to talk with them. what can i say ? talk about what with them?

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
Jo - Coordinator 12 February, 2013 - 08:21

Hi lienya! I think lots of people have the same problem when they're nervous. Why don't you think of some good topics of conversation so that next time you're prepared? An easy way to start a conversation is to ask people where they're from, and if they are enjoying their holiday or visit. It's always interesting to compare your experiences with people from other countries - if they're your age, you can ask them about their school, friends, family and hobbies. Good luck! I hope you meet someone to talk to soon!

Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

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daodangcaonguyen's picture
daodangcaonguyen 23 October, 2014 - 17:49

You can buy this poket dictionary - Oxford learner's pocket Word Skills. It is handy and useful. There are nearly 200 topics and range of words to help you deal with all difficult situation. It is only nearly 8 US dollar in Vietnam, but I think it is cheaper in China since it is printed in China.

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gayter0203's picture
gayter0203 27 January, 2013 - 07:21

When I'm free, I just flip through my pocket Thesaurus so that by glance I come across many new words. That helps me a lot to improve my vocabulary.

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te-ufo's picture
te-ufo 7 June, 2012 - 16:43

Great job :D This is very good article, It helped me in very thinks. I must share on facebook :D

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 8 June, 2012 - 06:06

Hi te-ufo! We all forget words sometimes, so these are really useful tips for everyone. Thanks for your comment and especially for sharing this article with your friends! Please keep reading, learning and sharing!

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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